Lucknow/Domariyaganj: Priyanka Gandhi's "neech rajniti" (low-level politics) barb at Narendra Modi got a caste spin with the BJP prime ministerial candidate using it to play upon his 'lower caste' identity. The Congress accused Modi of deliberately misinterpreting facts while BSP leader Mayawati attacked him for his "despicable politics" for electoral benefit.
Narendra Modi addresses a rally in Mumbai. File pic
"You said 'neech rajniti'... They are not able to come to terms with the truth, so they said it is politics of a lower class person. I cannot deny I am from a lower caste, but it is not a crime to be lower caste... I can assure the nation my politics is not low level," Modi said Tuesday at a public meeting in Uttar Pradesh's Domariyaganj, without naming anyone.
"Is it a sin to be born in a lower caste, have I done anything wrong?" he thundered, as the crowd shouted, "No" in unison.
His comment came after Priyanka Gandhi attacked him Monday saying Modi had insulted her "martyred" father Rajiv Gandhi, and that the Congress booth workers in Amethi would give a befitting reply to his "low-level politics".
The Congress was quick to defend Priyanka Gandhi and said it was Modi's habit to divert issues. "He has not misinterpreted anything, he is doing it on purpose," Congress leader Kapil Sibal said.
"...That is how Narendra Modi is. He will say something which has nothing to do with facts," he said.
At a press conference in Lucknow in the evening, Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati was scathing in her criticism of Modi.
"The Congress said that he is playing low-level politics, and he tried to reap benefit out of it throughout the day today. He is doing despicable politics in the garb of this issue," said the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister.
She said that while Modi had been saying that he belongs to a backward class, he has not disclosed his caste.
"This means he does not belong to backward classes. Even if we accept that he belongs to backward class, I want to ask the BJP what it has done for the backward community," Mayawati said, appealing to the electorate, especially backward castes and minorities, not to be swayed by Modi's "despicable politics".
Earlier, Modi said the Election Commission should take note of Priyanka's comment.
"Stop taunting the lower castes in independent India. Would the Election Commission take action on such an insult?... They have their own compulsions," he said.
The Bharatiya Janata Party leader also said that he was earlier taunted for being a 'chai walla' (tea seller), and accused the Congress of insulting the lower caste people.
"Hang me if you want, but don't insult my lower caste brothers," he said.
Modi earlier tweeted: "It is this 'low-level politics' that will help India come out of 60 years of misrule and the politics of vote bank...and wipe the tears of many."
"Socially, I belong to the lower section, hence my politics too will come across as being low level to them," he said in another tweet.
In Kolkata, BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad demanded an apology from Priyanka Gandhi contending the comments showed her elitist attitude and bias against the poor.
"It is not only regrettable, but she owes an apology to the nation. This is actually an insult of the poor and those who are backward. This is not low-level politics, but usage of such low words is casteist," he said.
Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi however accused Modi of dividing politics on the basis of caste.
"Which caste does Narendra Modi belong to. He himself disclosed that he belongs to OBC and now he has come down to this level. It is he who is dividing politics on the basis of caste," he said.
"Will low-level politics belong to any caste? It is unfortunate that leaders of BJP belonging to low caste or upper caste are doing low level politics," he said.
Amethi, where Priyanka Gandhi's brother and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi is locked in a triangular fight with BJP's Smriti Irani and Aam Aadmi Party's Kumar Vishwas, votes Wednesday.