Senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar stirred a massive controversy on Thursday after he went a little too far while taking a routine dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling him a despicable and uncivilised man (neech and asabhya). Aiyar’s comments spread like a wildfire in the political sphere and triggered a war of words between the two political parties – Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress. Not just Rahul Gandhi and other big guns of politics but even PM Modi himself spoke on the raging controversy.

Talking about the Prime Minister, Mani Shankar Aiyar said, “Ye aadmi bahut neech kisam ka aadmi hai, is mein koi sabhyata nahi hai, aur aise mauke par is kisam ki gandi rajniti karne ki kya avashyakta hai? (He is a very despicable man, he is not civilised and what is the need of doing cheap politics at such point).” It caused an outrage and one-by-one, several politicians expressed their opinions on the matter.

While addressing a rally in Surat ahead of Gujarat Assembly Elections, PM Modi retaliated to Aiyar’s comments saying, “Congress leaders are speaking in a language that is not acceptable in a democracy. One Congress leader, who has studied in the best institutions, served as a diplomat, was a Minister in Cabinet, he said Modi is ‘Neech.’ This is insulting. This is nothing but a Mughalai mindset.” Prime Minister Narendra Modi continued an hour-long tirade against the words used by Congress leader.

After PM’s retaliation, Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad championed his party leader. While lambasting Aiyar, Prasad used a similar tone as PM Modi saying, “Mani Shankar Aiyar has called our PM ‘neech’ but we are proud of our Prime Minister, he has answered (Aiyar) very politely and sensibly. Aiyar’s mindset is a ‘darbaari’ one.”

Later, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi tried to palliate the escalating verbal war between the two parties. He said, “BJP and PM Modi routinely use filthy language to attack Congress party. 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 has said.”

After the address of Rahul Gandhi, Mani Shankar Aiyar held a press conference to explain his controversial remarks. Aiyar said, “Why was PM taking a jibe at Congress and Rahul Gandhi at the inauguration of a Centre on Baba Saheb Ambedkar? Everyday PM is using foul language against our leaders. I am a freelance Congressi, I hold no post in the party, so I can reply to PM in his language.”

For the specific word that he used for the Prime Minister which sparked the controversy, Aiyar apologised saying, “I meant low level when I said ‘neech’, I think in English when I speak in Hindi as Hindi is not my mother tongue. So if it has some other meaning then I apologise.”

But the damage was already done and BJP leaders made it clear that it would take more than just a formal apology to put water under the bridge. “I think it is a well-thought strategy by the Congress, to use filthy language about PM and spread misinformation but when there is public outrage they apologise. It is not just a matter of filthy language but of Congress’ mindset which says that only one family can rule this country and if someone from the weaker section becomes PM then they call him ‘chaiwala‘ & ‘neech’,” Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said in a rant against Aiyar.

Even Rashtriya Janata Dal supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav did not refrain from taking part in the controversy. On being asked what he feels about the comments made by Aiyar, Lalu Yadav said, “Mani Shankar Aiyar is mentally not fit.”

Later in the day, looking at how the entire controversy is not seeming to die down, Aiyar again reiterated his apology while talking to media. He said, “‘Neech’ word can have different interpretations, my intention was never to talk of PM’s caste. I apologise if it also has a caste meaning. I am an ordinary worker of Congress, have not even been asked to campaign in Gujarat so why such an uproar over my comment?”