The Bharatiya Janata Party on Tuesday hit out at Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar for justifying his description of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as “neech kisam ka aadmi [low-life kind of person]” during the Gujarat Assembly elections in 2017.

BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao described Aiyar as “abuser-in-chief”. He said the Congress leader had claimed in 2017 that he had been misunderstood because of his poor Hindi. “Double speak and arrogance of Congress on display again!” Rao tweeted.

Rao criticised Aiyar for calling Modi anti-national, and labelled him Pakistan’s crony. “Pak-crony Aiyar has the audacity to call PM ‘anti-national’,” said the BJP leader. “Nation knows that Narendra Modiji is the epitome of ‘Rashtra Bhakti’ [nationalism]. Aiyar is known for ‘Parivar Bhakti’ as a (political) slave of the [Gandhi] dynasty. It is not surprising at all that all abusers are close Gandhi confidants!”

BJP Information Technology Cell chief Amit Malviya claimed that Aiyar was upset as Sam Pitroda was getting all the attention for his remark about the 1984 anti-Sikh violence. “Upset that Sam Pitroda was getting all the attention, the irrepressible Mani Shankar Aiyar pulls Pitroda’s foot out of his mouth and puts it in his...Reiterates and justifies his ‘Neech’ comment for PM!” he tweeted.

At a rally in Bihar’s Buxar district, Modi said Opposition leaders were competing with each other to abuse him as they were losing the elections. “They can’t win so they are venting their frustration by abusing,” he added.

The Congress had suspended Aiyar for almost eight months for the remark in 2017. In an opinion piece published on Monday, the Congress leader said the prime minister would be ousted from his position on May 23, when Lok Sabha election results are declared. “Remember how I described him on 7 December 2017? Was I not prophetic?” Aiyar wrote, referring to his contentious statement.

Let us not use hatred and violence: Rahul Gandhi

Meanwhile, Congress President Rahul Gandhi, in an apparent reference to Aiyar’s comments, said “hatred and violence” should not be used against opponents. “India, I am pushing for a new language in politics,” he tweeted. “Let us fight each other brutally on issues. Let us fight hard on ideology. But...Let us not use hatred and violence against each other. It is bad for India.”

Congress spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill denied that his party was on the back foot after Aiyar’s opinion piece, PTI reported. “Mani Shankar Aiyar’s remarks are his own as stated by him in his article,” he said. “The Congress is neither on the back foot nor ashamed of his remarks. It is the PM who should be ashamed for lowering the dignity of the office he occupies by making disparaging remarks against former PM Rajiv Gandhi and former Congress President Sonia Gandhi.” Shergill said Modi should apologise to the country for his language.