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Mani Shankar Aiyar and 'neech' politics: Narendra Modi keeps getting served opportunities to attack Congress on a silver platter

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has never had to try hard to launch attacks on the Opposition, chiefly the Congress. The opportunities get served to him on a silver platter. All he has to do is lift the velvet cover, and launch a counter-attack that boomerangs on the Congress — the barbs go back exactly where they had originated from, with the Congress having to either distance itself from the controversy or look for cover.

Whether it was the ‘neech’ comment by Gandhi family's close aide and Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar in December 2017, or the ‘chaiwala’ comment by him and another Congress leader with the gift of the gab, Shashi Tharoor, in November 2018, or the ‘chowkidar chor hai’ by none other than the Congress president Rahul Gandhi himself, Modi has always deftly turned barbs by the Congress to his advantage.

 Mani Shankar Aiyar and neech politics: Narendra Modi keeps getting served opportunities to attack Congress on a silver platter

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

Yet, some Congress leaders have found it hard to learn lessons. After getting shamed over his ‘neech’ comment on Modi in December 2017, Aiyar had beaten a hasty retreat blaming it on his poor Hindi, and Congress had distanced itself from him for a while, awarding him suspension from the party (only to be reinstated last year). But Modi used the insult effectively in his campaign in the Gujarat Assembly elections held the same month. It, indeed, worked in his favour.

After hibernating for more than a year, Aiyar resurfaced in public justifying his ‘neech’ comment and patting himself on the back in an article published in Rising Kashmir and reproduced by The Print on Tuesday, asking, “Remember how I described him on 7 December, 2017? Was I not prophetic?”

Needless to add, Modi was quick to pick up this ammo handed to him by Aiyar quite opportunely in the run up to the last phase of the 2019 Lok Sabha election on 19 May. He made an emotional connect with the public on this point at a rally in Chandigarh on Tuesday. He highlighted the fact that Aiyar’s self-recall of his ‘neech’ jibe was not being condemned by the Congress this time round, hinting at the party’s tacit support to the insult.

If Aiyar’s credentials as a Gandhi family sycophant were in any doubt, he would have risked being branded as enemy’s agent within the Congress. That’s because he didn’t mince words to give the BJP all that it needs to corner the Congress in this game of low-brow politics. In the same article, he also referred to Modi as the most “foul-mouthed” prime minister the country has ever seen.

Congress has since declared Aiyar’s tirade as his personal views. Yet, the point is not lost. Can Congress afford to attack the BJP by directly hitting the prime minister below the belt at this stage? Or, has Aiyar been let loose to unleash damage deliberately? A barb is a barb, after all, even if the prime minister succeeds in ducking it.

Or, is the Congress reaching the end of its tether and getting loony?

Sam Pitroda, another favourite of the former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, and considered a mentor to Rahul Gandhi, recently made light of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, forcing the party to look for cover. Pitroda was even asked by the party president to apologise.

It’s not a secret that Modi wears his humble origins as a badge of honour and no amount of berating by the Congress on his non-elite background would ever pin him down. As he has proved, he is most likely to pick up the abuse sportingly and throw it back in the Congress court. And in a country where humility is a desirable virtue, these insults end up helping Modi and not Congress.

The rest will become clear on 23 May.

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Updated Date: May 15, 2019 05:52:16 IST