Union minister of state Giriraj Singh has sparked a major controversy by targeting Congress president Sonia Gandhi in racist remarks, questioning whether the party would have accepted her as its chief if the colour of her skin hadn’t been white.
"Rajiv Gandhi koi Nigerian lady se viyah kiye hote, gori chamra na hota to kya Congress party usko netritya sweekarti kya? (If Rajiv Gandhi had married some Nigerian lady, if she wasn’t white, would the Congress party have given her its leadership?)" Singh was heard saying in footage aired by TV channels on Wednesday.
Singh, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP from Nawada in Bihar, made the remarks after an interaction with the media at Hajipur, 20 km north of Patna, late on Tuesday.
In other remarks aired by TV channels, Singh could be seen poking fun at Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
"If the Congress was in power, if we weren’t in power, and if Rahulji was the prime minister, and for some reason the prime minister would disappear for 43 to 47 days, then what would have happened?" he said.
"The whole budget session is over but where is Rahulji? This is similar to the disappearance of the Malaysian airliner which has still not been found. The Congress is the opposition party and its leader is not in the budget session, no one knows, the Congress leadership is not prepared to say where he is."
Singh later expressed regret for his remarks. His aides claimed the comments were "off the cuff and informal". They further claimed Singh had made it clear that his remarks were "off the record and not a part" of the media interaction.
A journalist used his smartphone to film Singh’s comments and this footage was later aired on television.
The Congress quickly hit back, with senior party leader and former Union minister RPN Singh demanding that Prime Minister Narendra Modi publicly apologise for Singh’s racist remark.
"Strongly condemn sexist & racist remarks made by minister Giriraj Singh referring to Smt Sonia Gandhi. Does the Prime Minister support him?" RPN Singh tweeted. The Congress leader said such "shocking comments are derogatory to not just the Congress President but all women".
Ashok Choudhary, the president of the Bihar unit of Congress, said the Union minister’s comment was "distasteful to the extreme" and only reflected the BJP's "anti-woman culture". He added, "It shows that he is mentally ill and politically bankrupt."
Giriraj Singh has courted controversy with his comments in the past too.
He embarrassed the BJP during last year’s Lok Sabha polls by saying that those who opposed Narendra Modi should go to Pakistan as there was no place for them in India. Singh, who was earlier a minister in the Bihar government led by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, made those remarks in the presence of senior BJP leader Nitin Gadkari during a rally.
Singh was embroiled in another controversy in July last year, when the police and income tax department started a probe after Rs 1.14 crore was recovered from his home. After he became a Union minister, the probes were shelved.
He won his spurs in the BJP with a strong pro-Modi stance at a time when the party’s top rung was not backing Modi's candidature as prime miniser. The unflinching loyalty reportedly bagged Singh a ministerial berth despite reservations within the BJP.