Congress leader Manishankar Aiyar today ridiculed Narendra Modi's Prime Ministerial ambitions and said he was welcome to sell tea at an AICC meet here in comments that fuelled a controversy.
The BJP quickly hit back at the attack on Narendra Modi, its PM candidate, when its leader Arun Jaitley said the strength of Indian democracy will be proved when a "former tea vendor defeats a dynasty representative".
"Let this be the battle of 2014," the Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha tweeted.
Aiyar said he can promise that the Gujarat Chief Minister will never become the Prime Minister of the country.
"I give you my word that 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 said at the venue of the AICC meeting here.
Aiyar's remarks came against the backdrop of Narendra Modi's oft-repeated reference to his own socio-economic background and humble origins at rallies while targeting the Gandhi-Nehru family.
Aiyar also came under criticism from Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who said "mocking" at the "humble" background of Narendra Modi would not help the UPA's campaign.
"Modi has a lot of negatives but his humble origins are a positive some of us can't claim. We aren't helping our campaign by mocking him," Omar tweeted.
Aiyar ruled out an apology for his controversial remarks and refuted charges it reflected arrogance or that it mocks the simple origins of Narendra Modi.
"Apology, for what?," Aiyar asked, adding he has not said anything that could be construed as mocking Narendra Modi.
"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. Therefore, I just said that Modi will never be the Prime Minister of India, but if he wants, we can set up a tea stall for him here," he said.
BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar described Aiyar as an "icon of cheap thinking".
"His remarks show the depression within the Congress regarding the forthcoming elections.... They know they are going to lose. All we can say is 'get well soon'," he added.
"Mani Shankar is not going to make Modi the PM. We have not even asked for his vote. People of the country have made up their mind and this is evident from the support that Narendra Modi is