Youth Congress's Classist 'Chaiwala' Modi Meme Triggers Huge Backlash

Though the meme was removed soon after it was put out, BJP leaders lost no time in demanding to know if the move had the party's leadership's support.

The meme tweeted by the Yuva Congress, which was later removed.

New Delhi: In a self-goal ahead of the Gujarat polls, the Congress’s youth wing on Tuesday circulated a meme about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘chaiwala’ past, provoking a backlash from the BJP, and prompting a red-faced Congress to distance itself from it.

The meme that unleashed a political storm had a photograph of Modi, US President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May engaged in a conversation. It shows Modi telling the two leaders about the opposition’s memes targeting him, “Aap logon ne dekha vipaksh mere kaise kaise maimai banvata hai (Have you seen the kind of ‘maimai’ the opposition makes of me)?” Trump corrects him, saying the word ‘meme’ is pronounced ‘meem’, “Usse maimai nahin, meem kehta hain (That is not called maimai  but ‘meem’).” May tells Modi to sell tea, “Tu chai bech (You sell tea).”

Though the tweet with the meme was removed soon after it was put out, the Congress faced a huge backlash from the BJP and others who criticised the opposition party for targeting the prime minister’s socio-economic background. The BJP questioned whether the classist meme had the party leadership’s approval. “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, with the official Twitter handle of BJP chief Amit Shah retweeting all the posts. “The arrogance of the Congress Party and shameful anti-poor stand get 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,” Prasad said in his series of tweets.

Moving in to contain the damage, Congress communications in-charge 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.”

The latest controversy brings to mind an earlier remark by senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar in the run up to the 2014 election. Dismissing any possibility of Modi becoming prime minister, Aiyar had said that if Modi so wishes, the Congress can task him with selling tea at the party’s convention. “I promise you in 21st Century Narendra Modi will never become the prime minister of the country. But if he wants to distribute tea here, we will find a place for him,” Aiyar had said. Coming ahead of the 2014 general election, Aiyar’s remark predictably provoked a strident backlash from Modi. The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate leveraged the remark in rally after election rally, to attack the Congress for its ingrained anti-poor politics and attitude. The enthusiastic response Modi drew from the crowds, calling himself ‘chaiwala’, led him to launch the ‘chai pe charcha‘ campaign to connect with voters.

Recalling the price the Congress had paid for the insensitive comment, National Conference chief and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah this time said the tweet is in poor taste and dubbed it as an act of  “political suicide” for the party. “What is [it] about elements of the Congress party that commit political suicide with such amazing regularity? This tweet is in such poor taste,” he tweeted.

Finding itself in the line of fire, the Youth Congress has 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.

(With PTI inputs)