In a potentially self-damaging act ahead of the Gujarat polls, the Congress' youth wing on Tuesday circulated a meme about Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'chaiwala' past, provoking a backlash from the Bharatiya Janata Party, and prompting a red-faced Congress to distance from it.
The meme that unleashed a political firestorm contained photograph of Modi, United States President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May engaged in a conversation.
Modi is seen telling the two leaders about the opposition's memes targeting him. He mispronounces the word as "mainmain". Trump corrects him, saying the word is pronounced as "meem", while May tells him to go and sell tea.
Though the meme was removed soon after it was put out, the Congress faced a virtual fusillade from the BJP which excoriated the opposition party for targeting the prime minister over his humble background, and demanding an explanation whether the meme had the approval of the party leadership.
"This blatantly classist and anti-poor Tweet by the Youth Congress shows their mindset towards India’s poor. Does Crown Prince @OfficeOfRG support this?," Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani said in a tweet.
Union Ministers Ravi Shankar Prasad, J P Nadda and Piyush Goyal also hit out at the Congress over the post. The official Twitter handle of BJP chief Amit Shah retweeted all such posts put out by the ministers.
"The arrogance of the Congress Party and shameful anti- poor stand gets exposed from the official twitter of the Youth Congress that a person born in poverty in the family of a tea vendor cannot become the Prime Minister. No lessons learnt. Insulting popular mandate. Madam Sonia Gandhi and Mr Rahul Gandhi do you still believe that only you have a divine right to rule India?" Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said in a series of tweets.
He said the country expects the two leaders to respond to the meme which is "shameful and insulting" to poor, he said.
Moving in to contain the damage, Congress communications incharge Randeep Surjewala took to Twitter, saying "Congress strongly disapproves and rejects such humour through memes. Differences on policy and opinion aside, Congress culture imbibes respect for PM and all political opponents."
An off the cuff remark by senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections that Modi can never become the prime minister, and that if he wants the party can give him a place at its convention to sell tea, had given the then BJP's prime ministerial nominee a stick to beat the Congress with.
Rally after election rally, Modi targeted the Congress over Aiyar's jibe to claim the then ruling party at the centre was anti-poor.
Modi was, in fact, so enthused by the response that he got from cheering crowds while calling himself a 'chaiwala' that he even launched a campaign 'chai pe charcha' to connect with voters.
Recalling the price the Congress paid for the swipe, National Conference chief and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah said the tweet is in poor taste and dubbed it as a "political suicide" for the party.
"What is about elements of the Congress party that commit political suicide with such amazing regularity? This tweet is in such poor taste," he tweeted.
Union minister J P Nadda tweeted: "A tweet can be deleted but not the mentality which brands masses as 'Cattle class' and 'Mango people'. They can’t fathom a ‘Chaiwala’ leading the nation. Gujarat Shall Answer!!."
Another union minister Piyush Goyal said, "Congress has once again displayed its anti-poor mindset through such tweets. Upcoming elections will be another reality check for them."
Chastised, the Indian Youth Congress, apologised for the meme.
"Although the handle @Yuvadesh is being run by youth volunteers and not by @iyc, we do not approve of such humour and apologise.
"Despite political differences with the BJP & having suffered everyday abuse from their leaders, we respect the Prime Minister & all political opponents," Youth Congress chief Amarinder Singh Raja tweeted.
IMAGE: A screenshot of the tweet.