Mani Shankar Aiyar, habitual Agent Provacateur, refused to apologise today for stating that Narendra Modi will never be Prime Minister, but is welcome to sell tea at today’s Congress conclave in Delhi which is fine-tuning strategy for the national election.
“The strength of Indian democracy will be proved when a former tea vendor defeats a Dynasty representative. Let this be the battle of 2014,” was the acerbic response of the BJP’s Arun Jaitley.
Mr Aiyar was unmoved by the cross-party reproach for his remarks.
“I am in politics, mate,” a belligerent Mr. Aiyar said, “This is not a drawing room. This is a boxing room. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
The 72-year-old Rajya Sabha MP unpacked the controversy when he said: “There is no way he can be Prime Minister in the 21st century… but if he wants to come and distribute tea here we can make some room for him.” He later said that he was simply reiterating what the BJP highlights about Mr. Modi “as his main qualification.”
Mr. Aiyar refuted charges that his comment reflects arrogance or that it mocks the simple origins of Mr Modi, who in campaign speeches has emphasized that his family was not rich and that he sold tea on trains. Mr. Modi has contrasted his background with that of the Congress’ Rahul Gandhi, whose famous last name has placed him in the centre of power in his party.
“Who has made this personal?” Mr. Aiyar asked. “Doesn’t the BJP call my leader (Rahul) a prince (shahzaada)? Is that not personal?”
Congress ally Omar Abdullah was among those who said Mr. Aiyar had gone too far, “Modi has a lot of negatives but his humble origins are a positive some of us can’t claim. We aren’t helping our campaign by mocking him,” the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister tweeted.