Narendra Modi on Sunday parried Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s “chai wallah (tea seller)” barb in a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) meeting here, saying those born in “high families” consider it an insult to fight polls against a “backward” candidate.
“They think they should fight in elections. They think they should win elections. But (to compete) against a chai wallah, they feel insulted,” the BJP’s prime ministerial nominee said, invoking his humble past in a speech that stressed the welfare of the poor and backward sections.
Congress leader Aiyar had triggered a controversy at a party meet on Friday, saying, “If he (Modi) wants, he can come and sell tea here at the AICC (All India Congress Committee) meet.”
“Narendra Modi cannot become the prime minister in the 21st century,” Aiyar had added. Later, he had accused the media of twisting his words.
Modi latched on to the opportunity and trained his guns on the Congress over the remark. He said people who had thrived on dynasty politics felt it was an insult to take on someone “whose mother used to wash dishes”.
“The traditions in which they have grown up, their minds are feudalistic,” Modi said, apparently referring to the Nehru-Gandhi family.
Commenting on the tea seller controversy doing the rounds, he added, “Chai wallahs must be a proud lot these days.”
The T-word against Modi has been raising a storm in the coffee cup for quite some time now. The Gujarat chief minister, however, has never shied away from the debate.
“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,” Aiyar had said CNN-IBN news channel after he stoked up a fresh row.
The debate started after Samajwadi Party leader Naresh Agarwal had said last November that a tea seller could not have national perspective.
His remarks had come against the backdrop of Modi, BJP’s PM nominee, aggressively campaigning for the November-December assembly elections.
Modi had hit back at an election rally, saying, “Who deserves to be the PM — a tea seller or the people who sell the country?”
The issue snowballed into a major controversy. Later, Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, known to be a fierce critic of Modi, had said “even a chaiwallah can become the prime minister”.