Shocker: Narendra Modi can never be PM, can sell tea at AICC meet stall, says Manishankar Aiyar

Written by PTI | New Delhi | Updated: Jan 18 2014, 02:44am hrs
Narendra ModiNarendra Modi arrives for the National Executive meeting in New Delhi, India, Friday, Jan. 17, 2014. (AP)
Congress leader Manishankar Aiyar today ridiculed Narendra Modi's Prime Ministerial ambitions and said he was welcome to sell tea at an AICC meet here in comments that fuelled a controversy.

The BJP quickly hit back at the attack on Narendra Modi, its PM candidate, when its leader Arun Jaitley said the strength of Indian democracy will be proved when a "former tea vendor defeats a dynasty representative".

"Let this be the battle of 2014," the Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha tweeted.

Aiyar said he can promise that the Gujarat Chief Minister will never become the Prime Minister of the country.

"I give you my word that in 21st Century Narendra Modi will never become the Prime Minister of the country. ...But if he wants to distribute tea here, we will find a place for him," Aiyar said at the venue of the AICC meeting here.

Aiyar's remarks came against the backdrop of Narendra Modi's oft-repeated reference to his own socio-economic background and humble origins at rallies while targeting the Gandhi-Nehru family.

Aiyar also came under criticism from Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who said "mocking" at the "humble" background of Narendra Modi would not help the UPA's campaign.

"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," Omar tweeted.

Aiyar ruled out an apology for his controversial remarks and refuted charges it reflected arrogance or that it mocks the simple origins of Narendra Modi.

"Apology, for what," Aiyar asked, adding he has not said anything that could be construed as mocking Narendra Modi.

"It is Modi who keeps bringing to the fore his background of being a tea stall owner while making a pitch to the people of India for the elections. Therefore, I just said that Modi will never be the Prime Minister of India, but if he wants, we can set up a tea stall for him here," he said.

BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar described Aiyar as an "icon of cheap thinking".

"His remarks show the depression within the Congress regarding the forthcoming elections.... They know they are going to lose. All we can say is 'get well soon'," he added.

"Mani Shankar is not going to make Modi the PM. We have not even asked for his vote. People of the country have made up their mind and this is evident from the support that Narendra Modi is getting across the country," Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar said.

BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi said after polls people will know who will sell tea and who will form the government.

"Modi has demonstrated that he doesn't know our history, our Constitution and our laws. He has a development model that is not inclusive of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe and minorities," Aiyar said when asked to amplify his statement on Modi at the AICC meet.

Responding to the BJP attack on him, Aiyar recalled a famous quote of former US President Harry S Truman: "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."

Aiyar also hit out at the media, accusing it of twisting his words.

Narendra Modi at his rallies has often said that people who are ruling at the Centre "don't know what poverty is all about, but I know it."

The Gujarat Chief Minister has said that he was born in a poor family, and have seen and lived in poverty.

"I have sold tea at the railway station and in running trains ...those selling tea in trains know more about railways than the minister," Narendra Modi had said at a rally in Patna.

When he was six years old, Modi helped his father sell tea to passengers whenever an odd train came into the small Vadnagar station in Gujarat, according to a book titled "The anatomy of Narendra Modi--the man and his politics" authored by Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay.

Samajwadi Party leader Naresh Agarwal had also made similar remarks against Narendra Modi, saying that a person who used to sell tea cannot have a national perspective.

"Narendra Modi wants to become a PM. Someone rising from a tea shop can never have a national perspective. Like, if you make a 'sipahi' (constable) as 'kaptan' (Superintendent of Police), he can never have SP's approach but will have that of a constable," Agarwal had said in Hardoi in Uttar Pradesh.