Former union minister and senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar on Friday stoked a controversy when he commented at the All India Congress Committee session in Delhi that BJP’s prime ministerial candidate “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.”

Mr. Aiyar’s statement drew immediate criticism from the BJP. Even Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah who said such mockery of the humble background of Mr. Modi would not help the UPA’s prospects in any way.

The Congress leader later refused to apologise but clarified that “if the media had reported the whole of what one says we needn’t have any controversy”.

“I said that Modi has demonstrated after being named the BJP candidate that he knows no history, that he knows little economics that he has no knowledge of the Constitution that he does not know the law of the land and that his economic model for Gujarat does not include the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and the minorities. So what does that leave him with? He keeps saying make me Prime Minister as I began life selling tea. Fine if that’s his main qualification and he wants a stall here, we can let him sell tea here.”

During his speech, Mr. Aiyar had also said: “I give you my word that in 21st Century Narendra Modi will never become the Prime Minister of the country.”

Reacting to Mr. Aiyar's comments, the BJP said the remarks illustrate the Congress party's “poor thinking”.

Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitely tweeted: “The strength of Indian democracy will be proved when a former tea vendor defeats a dynasty representative. Let this be the battle of 2014.”

Later, BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said Mr. Aiyar's comments are not only in poor taste, but are also an insult to the poor and the unprivileged. Mr. Aiyar's comments seem to be an acknowledgement of defeat by the Congress, he added.

“We can only say get well soon to them,” he quipped.