New Delhi, May 7: Narendra Modi’s attempt to twist Priyanka Gandhi’s “neech rajneeti (low-level politics)” remark into a caste controversy was today condemned by senior Congress leaders, who described it as a “shocking distortion” unbecoming of someone who aspires to lead the country.
Rahul Gandhi led the party in confronting Modi’s interpretation of his sister’s statement, saying in Amethi: “Jaati nahi, karm neech hote hain (It is not caste but actions that can be lowly).”
He continued: “Neech soch hoti hai, gusse ki soch hoti hai, krodh ki soch hoti hai.” Thinking can be lowly, if it is driven by anger and intolerance.
The party took the cue and launched an offensive, with spokesperson Shashi Tharoor declaring that Modi’s argument was a revelation of what he thinks of castes. “There was nothing in Priyanka’s statement that had any bearing on Modi’s origin or caste. His speech at Amethi contained a large number of things that are unacceptable. Priyanka only meant this was a debased level of politics,” he said.
Priyanka had said the people of Amethi would give a fitting reply to Modi for his “neech rajneeti” after he attacked her “martyred father”. The BJP mascot seized on the word “neech” to claim that she was targeting him for belonging to a “lower caste”.
Tharoor said: “The Congress never uses words like neech for caste. Modi thinks certain castes can be neech and he made a naked appeal for support on caste lines.”
General secretary Shakeel Ahmed tweeted: “Modi should explain which are the castes he is calling neech.”
Several leaders came down heavily on the BJP for what they described as a campaign of “falsehood from the beginning” to mislead voters. The Congress onslaught came a day after BSP leader Mayawati taunted the party for its silence.
Ajay Maken, who heads the party’s communications department, also went on Twitter. “Vote for me I am Chaiwala. Vote for me I’m Hindu. Vote for me I'm poor. Vote for me my mom travels by auto. Vote for me I am low caste. Next?” he wrote.
Congress leaders argued that Modi had used all the tricks in his bag to maximise his support base. He pretended to fight this election on development but then went on to use religion, caste, money power, personal insults and defiance of the Election Commission, they said, pointing to the Ram temple backdrop at his Faizabad rally and the repeated references to his backward caste identity.
“We have never asked his caste. No other leader says, ‘vote for me because I am a chaiwala, I am OBC, I am poor’. He is using religion at some places and caste at others to woo voters,” Rashid Alvi said.
Tharoor summed up: “The Congress is talking about the idea of India. The BJP about India without an idea.”
The Thiruvananthapuram MP saw signs of desperation in the BJP. “At times he dares the EC to file cases against him, at times he presents a private company’s report on land use in Gujarat as Government of India view. There are several examples of desperation in the BJP camp.”