The Congress on Tuesday came down heavily on Narendra Modi over his playing the caste card, saying the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP's) prime ministerial nominee was purposefully misinterpreting facts in a desperate attempt to get votes.
Narendra Modi Rally at parade ground in Allahabad. (HT Photo/Sheeraz Rizvi)
A row broke out after Modi, in a series of tweets and at a rally in Uttar Pradesh, said some people thought he practised "low-level" politics just because he was from a backward caste.
His remarks came a day after Priyanka Gandhi Vadra accused Modi of insulting her late father Rajiv Gandhi and charged him with stooping to "low-level (neech rajniti)" politics.
Read: Amethi won’t forgive Modi for insulting my father, says Priyanka
Union minister Kapil Sibal targeted Modi for giving the issue a "spin". Talking to reporters, Sibal said, "He knows that he is misinterpreting. He does it purposefully. That is Narendra Modi. He will give it a spin that has nothing to do with fact."
Asserting that Priyanka — Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi's sister— never made any such insinuation, Sibal said she was only referring to the BJP resorting to "low-level" politics.
After Modi criticised late Rajiv Gandhi at a rally in Rahul's turf Amethi, Priyanka issued a statement saying people will not forgive her father's insult and will reply to their (BJP's) low-level politics.
Addressing a rally in Domariyaganj in UP, Modi hit back, saying, ""What is our (backward communities') crime? How dare they term us lowly and insult us?"
Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi, too, attacked Modi for indulging in "caste politics" in a desperate attempt to garner votes.
"It is unfortunate that he distorted Priyanka Gandhi's comments for political mileage. In BJP, whether one belongs to upper caste or lower caste, all of them are doing low-level politics."
Read: Cong, BJP heavyweights take poll battle to Amethi, Varanasi
Earlier in the day, Modi also took to Twitter, asserting his brand of politics would end "60 years of misrule". Ahead of the last two phases of the Lok Sabha elections in some seats of caste-influenced UP and Bihar, he said some people cannot see the sacrifice of people from the backward sections.
Referring to Modi's outburst on the social network site, Alvi said, "We never discriminate on caste basis and as far as this tweet is concerned, he (Modi) is doing caste politics."
He added, "Nobody knows which caste Narendra Modiji belongs to? It is he himself who has disclosed that he belongs to OBC. He is doing this politics. Now he has come down to this level."
The BJP, meanwhile, defended Modi, saying Priyanka was "ill-advised" on using the "neech" expression.
"She (Priyanka) doesn't understand the impact it can have, the negative impact it can have especially at the time when this country is trying to extricate itself out of caste politics.
"It is really insulting and I think she should have really kept out of it… considering the candidate in Amethi (Rahul Gandhi) is not speaking," BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said.
Sitharaman added the word "neech" had a "very very severe connotation" in a caste-ridden Indian life and when public figures use such words, they should use them with responsibility.
"I am objecting to the word 'neech' and I am also underlining the fact that is the mindset with which earlier Sitaram Kesari (former Congress president) was insulted and a leader from south was insulted in the same party."
On his part, Alvi said Priyanka was referring to the low-level of politics when she used the word "neech" in her statement.
"Does low-level politics belong to any caste?" he asked.