Congress has suspended its leader Mani Shankar Aiyar from primary membership of the party and issued him a show cause notice after the politician used a casteist slur against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Aiyar called Modi a "neech aadmi" after the PM accused Congress of using the name of Dalit icon BR Ambedkar to seek votes without acknowledging his contribution towards nation building. Aiyar had countered saying that India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru had recognised Ambedkar's contribution. He also accused Modi of playing dirty politics.
In a tweet, senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi called for Aiyer's apology saying that his party had a "different culture and heritage."
Aiyer sought to defend himself. "I am told that 'neech' has many meanings, many connotations in Hindi, and if Mr Modi chooses to distort it to claim that it means low born, then all I can do is to apologise for having used a word that could be interpreted as low born. But that was not my intention at all and certainly not a part of my culture," he said.
Gandhi's action could be seen as a measure to control the damage just ahead of Gujarat elections in which the Congress has been predicted to give a tough fight to Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). A recent poll predicted that Congress and BJP would each get 43% of the votes polled.
Gandhi's prompt action came after a storm of outrage on social media over Aiyar's comment. Politicians such as Omar Abdullah rushed to praise Gandhi – whose role as a leader has come under scrutiny after his party decide to elevate him unopposed – for his decisive action.