New Delhi: As malicious messages circulated on social media about the “death” of senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, the controversial politician Saturday said he is “very much alive” and busy campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections.
For a leader who always manages to stay in the headlines, Aiyar has been conspicuous by his absence in the Lok Sabha campaign so far, causing his critics and trolls to circulate messages about his “death”.
Aiyar told ThePrint he had heard about the rumours, including the “Balokot one”, which claimed that he had been killed in the Indian Air Force air strike in Pakistan on 26 February.
“With deep regret I have to say this for all those who were hoping I’d be dead that I am very much alive,” Aiyar said.
The Congress leader said that he had been campaigning for the party in the south, and will now be heading to Prayagraj and Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh. However, he clarified that he has not been given any official election responsibility by the party.
The senior politician, for better or worse, is fairly popular among Congress rivals with his comments often paving way for the party to be lampooned.
After his infamous ‘chaiwala’ remark about Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections — which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had used for its election campaign — he found himself in trouble again in 2017 for making a jibe at the prime minister before the Gujarat elections, referring to him as “neech aadmi”.
The comment was seen as a casteist attack on Modi who comes from the OBC community.
His remark had faced criticism, even from then Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
“BJP and PM routinely use filthy language to attack the Congress party. The Congress has a different culture and heritage. I do not appreciate the tone and language used by Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar to address the PM. Both the Congress and I expect him to apologise for what he said,” Gandhi had said at the time.
BJP and PM routinely use filthy language to attack the Congress party. The Congress has a different culture and heritage. I do not appreciate the tone and language used by Mr Mani Shankar Aiyer to address the PM. Both the Congress and I expect him to apologise for what he said.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) December 7, 2017
The remarks were exploited by the BJP, leading to Aiyar’s suspension from the Congress. He was reinstated into the party after nine months.
Social media rumours
This Lok Sabha election, with Aiyar not making it to the news cycle, the social media has been buzzing with theories surrounding his “disappearance”.
Many Twitter users, including BJP Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy, have made statements on Aiyar’s absence in the campaign.
On Friday, after a Twitter user named Suresh Ramamurthy asked Swamy if Aiyar had died in IAF’s “balaji bombing”, Swamy said, “Only Mani Shankar Aiyar can tell us for sure by announcing that news of his death has been vastly exaggerated”.
: Only Mani Shankar Aiyar can tell us for sure by announcing that news of his death has been vastly exaggerated
— Subramanian Swamy (@Swamy39) April 26, 2019
Another Twitter account, with the username Chowkidar Sunil Yadkikar, wondered about Aiyar’s absence after the Balakot strikes.
Has anyone Heard or Seen Congress Spokeperson Mani Shankar Aiyer, Live after the Balakhot Air Strike !
Where is Mani Shankar Aiyer?#manishankaraiyar@ZeeNewsHindi @republic @Republic_Bharat @abpnewstv @RubikaLiyaquat @CNNnews18 @timesofindia
— Chowkidar Suneel Yadkikar (@suneelyadkikar) April 26, 2019
‘BJP doesn’t understand Tamil’
Aiyar, however, remained unperturbed by the frenzy.
“I regret to inform my ill-wishers in the Hindutva movement that I am alive and kicking, not killed at Balakot nor dead as they hope,” said Aiyar.
“In fact, I cannot possibly breathe my last till I have seen Modi kicked out of office by the people of India. Only then could I rest in peace.”
When asked if Congress has asked him to stay mum, he said, “The problem with the BJP is it doesn’t understand Tamil. So, they were not able to follow me. Since the last week of March till third week of April, I was in the south.”
The senior Congress leader also said he has not been given any election campaign related responsibility.
“As far as election campaign is concerned, I was suspended for nine months during the Gujarat elections when Mr Modi twisted what I said. I was suspended without any explanation,” he said.
“I was served a show cause notice and asked not to respond to it. My suspension was revoked after nine months and since then I have not been given any election responsibility,” he said.
The former Union minister said that as far as his constituency was concerned, “it was surrendered to the DMK (Congress ally Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam)”.
“In the last week of March and then April, I was first in Mayiladuthurai, then there was a joint rally by Congress and DMK in Nagarcoil which had Stalin. I was then in Calicut (Kozhikode) to receive Mr Rahul Gandhi,” said Aiyar.
“Following this, I was in Wayanad and Kalpetta when the Congress president filed his nomination,” Aiyar added, saying he also canvassed in Wayanad.
He added that party ally Indian Union Muslim League had asked him to speak at a couple of rallies in areas around Kozhikode and Mallapuram.
“I am now headed for Allahabad (Prayagraj) and Lucknow to campaign for my party,” he said.
Asked to comment on the Congress Lok Sabha campaign, Aiyar said it’s resonating among the people. “I still believe that BJP and Modi will not be able to come back.”
When prodded on the question of whether Gandhi will be the next prime minister, he responded by saying, “Inshallah”.
Meanwhile, Congress MP Rajeev Gowda criticised the conspiracy theories afloat on Twitter, calling it a result of dumbing down of “educated Indians with the BJP constantly feeding fake and doctored videos and claims”.
“I had met him recently and he has been in the south for the past few weeks. Sad that social media comes up with such theories,” Gowda told ThePrint.
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