New Delhi/Surat: The Congress on Thursday night suspended the primary membership of Mani Shankar Aiyar after the Gandhi family loyalist set off a firestorm by calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi "neech aadmi" (a vile person), remarks that could come back to haunt the grand old party in poll-bound Gujarat.
In an apparent move to contain the possible damage barely two days ahead of the keenly contested Assembly elections in the prime minister's home state, the Congress announced disciplinary action against Aiyar, insisting it showed the party's "Gandhian leadership".
"He (Modi) is 'neech kism ka aadmi' (a vile man) who has no 'sabhyata' (civility)," Aiyar said earlier on Thursday in an ill-timed comment, attacking Modi after the latter accused the Congress of seeking votes in B R Ambedkar's name but trying to erase his contribution to nation building.
An apparently rattled Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who is set to assume the reins of the party from his mother Sonia Gandhi midway through the Gujarat elections, admonished Aiyar through Twitter and virtually instructed him to tender an apology.
A chastised Aiyar did proffer a conditional apology, but that did not apparently smooth the ruffled feathers of the troubled Congress leadership which suspended his primary membership to contain the possible damage his comment might cause in Gujarat elections.
This earned a swift riposte from the Prime Minister, who said at an election rally in Gujarat, "They can call me neech (low), but I will keep doing oonche (high) work."
The Congress, PM Modi said as campaigning ended for the first phase of assembly elections, has insulted his home state Gujarat. "Gujarat will reply," he said, also stating, "Yes, I am from the poor section of society and will spend every moment of my life working for the poor, Dalits, Tribals and OBC communities. They can keep their language; we will do our work."
The Prime Minister described Aiyar's comment as an example of the Congress' "Mughal values that teach to demean castes and talk about upper and lower castes."
After the rebuke by the Congress leadership, Aiyar, known for making off-the-cuff remarks against political rivals that often embarrassed his party, was soon on national television offering a clarification, insisting it was because of his poor understanding of Hindi language that he used the word, and tendering an apology.
Reacting to Aiyar's suspension, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said on Twitter: "Mani Shankar Aiyer s neech - attack on Prime Minister- a deliberate casteist statement, a convenient apology, a strategic suspension. People should see through this game.