Congress suspends Aiyar over remarks against Modi

Congress suspends Aiyar over remarks against Modi

Veteran leader Manishankar Aiyar on Thursday was suspended from the primary membership of the Congress after Rahul Gandhi strongly disapproved his "neech aadmi" (degenerate man) remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

A section of the Congress viewed Aiyar's remarks, in the middle of the high-pitched campaign for the Gujarat Assembly elections, as an attempt to weaken Rahul, who is set to take over as party president next week.

A row erupted as Aiyar described the prime minister as "neech aadmi" (degenerate man) who lacked "civility", remarks that drew a swift response from Modi who said the people of Gujarat will give a fitting reply to the Congress.

Aiyar had called Modi a degenerate person after the prime minister made certain remarks against the Congress while inaugurating the Ambedkar International Centre for Socio-Economic Transformation.

Sensing that Aiyar's remarks threatened to derail the carefully crafted campaign focussing on development and economic issues, Rahul issued a strong condemnation and directed the party veteran to apologise.

"I do not appreciate the tone and language used by Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar to address the PM. Both the Congress and I expect him to apologise for what he said," Rahul said on Twitter in an attempt to control the damage.

Rahul said the BJP and the prime minister have routinely used "filthy language" to attack the Congress party. "The Congress has a different culture and heritage," he said.

Within hours, the Congress issued a showcause notice to Aiyar and suspended him from the primary membership of the party.

"Congress party has issued a showcause notice to Manishankar Aiyar and suspended him from the primary membership. Will Modi dare to take such action?" Congress' chief spokesman Randeep Singh Surjewala said.

The Congress action came as prime minister sought to make political capital of Aiyar's remarks on the campaign trail in Gujarat recalling that the grand old party had always run him down for his humble beginnings.

"What all have they called us - donkeys, neech, gandi naali ke keede...the people of Gujarat will give a fitting answer to such deplorable language," the prime minister said making an emotional speech at a rally in Surat.

After Rahul's strong disapproval, Aiyar issued an apology contending that his remarks were lost in translation. "I never meant low born. In English there is a clear distinction between low and low born...if it has some other meaning then I apologise," the former Union minister said.

This is not the first time that Aiyar's remarks have landed the Congress in a spot during elections. Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, Aiyar had derided Modi as a tea seller who could never be prime minister.

Modi made political capital of Aiyar's remarks describing his modest beginnings from a tea-seller to chief minister.

"We just handed over the Gujarat election on a platter to the BJP. Why do we have such leaders in the party," a senior Congress leader said.

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