Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar at the Congress meeting at Talkatora Stadium in Delhi
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 the Congress conclave in Delhi that is devoting today to strategising for the national election.
"I am in politics, mate," a belligerent Mr Aiyar said to NDTV, "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 said in response to a sharp rebuke from the BJP for his remarks about its prime ministerial candidate.
At the mega-gathering of the Congress in Delhi today, Mr Aiyar 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 Abduallah 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 (Read: Quotable quotes from Congress meet
BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy dismissed Mr Aiyar's comment, saying, "Nothing better is expected from Mani Shankar Aiyar."