Union minister of state Giriraj Singh faced flak on Wednesday for targeting Congress president Sonia Gandhi in racist remarks, which he later described as 'informal'.
Singh questioned whether the Congress party would have accepted Sonia as its chief if the colour of her skin hadn't been white, in remarks that appeared to have embarrassed the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and evoked a sharp reaction from the Nigerian envoy who described them as "quite unacceptable".
The BJP pulled up Singh for his remarks. Party president Amit Shah summoned Singh and asked him not to be an embarrassment to the government and the party. In a damage control exercise, finance minister Arun Jaitley too joined Shah and forced Singh to express regret.
The Congress demanded the first-time MP’s resignation, as a massive row broke out over Singh's slip -- the latest chapter in the faux pas list of foot-in-mouth Indian politicians. HT brings to you a complete guide on the controversy.
The minister of state for micro, small and medium enterprise was caught on tape telling reporters in an off-the-record interaction with reporters in Hajipur town in Bihar, “Had Rajiv Gandhi married a Nigerian woman and if she was not a white-skinned woman, would the Congress have then accepted her leadership?”
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. The controversial comments were captured by a journalist on his smartphone and the footage later aired on television, triggering opposition demands for Singh’s removal from the council of ministers and an apology from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
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.
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.
People do talk off the record among each other, it's a different thing how it is presented: Giriraj Singh to ANI pic.twitter.com/2hqNxSXbr7— ANI (@ANI_news) April 1, 2015
NIGERIAN ENVOY SAYS IT'S UNACCEPTABLE
Apart from raising political hackles, Singh also became a diplomatic issue with the Nigerian high commission in New Delhi demanding an apology from the minister. Acting high gommissioner OB Okongor said a complaint may be filed with the ministry of external affairs as Singh’s comments were in “very bad taste”.
"It is quite unacceptable, coming from an honourable minister in the Indian government," Nigeria's acting high commissioner, OB Okongor, said. "India, Nigeria have close ties, such remarks are not expected."
"I am not going to comment publicly, but we have channels of communication and will be able to convey our remarks to Indian government," he said.
Not going to tell Indian PM what to do. He is a very close friend and I believe he will do the right thing:OB Okongor pic.twitter.com/CftyZ9spVp— ANI (@ANI_news) April 1, 2015
CONGRESS HITS OUT
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".
There should be a criminal case against Giriraj Singh for his remarks: Pramod Tiwari (Cong) pic.twitter.com/iyCbN2QVn1— ANI (@ANI_news) April 1, 2015
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."
Randeep Surjewala, the party's communication department in-charge, said the Congress strongly condemned the "intemperate and distasteful remarks of Union minister…bordering on insanity".
"Prime Minister must dismiss such a minister and apologise to the nation," he said.
Giriraj Singh has lost his mental balance: Rita Bahuguna Joshi pic.twitter.com/t7jB5UHDQv— ANI (@ANI_news) April 1, 2015
Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, said Singh's comments were "shameful". "Such people have been kept by Modiji in his government."
Congress leader Shobha Oza said, "I think Giriraj Singh has lost his mental balance, he needs to consult a psychiatrist."
Reacting to the controversy, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Brinda Karat said the remarks were derogatory and in full contempt of working women.
"This is racist and I strongly condemn it. How dare he make such racist statements. The entire statement shows the low level of public discourse," Karat said.
"In our country, there is no stringent code of conduct which can control such remarks. It is unfortunate. I think it is high time both Parliament and the state assembly should consider it."
RJD chief Lalu Prasad described Singh's remarks as "dirty politics" .
"It is a dirty politics of Giriraj Singh, who belongs to the BJP and the RSS, which promote such kind of politics," Lalu Prasad told the media.
The RJD chief said by targeting Gandhi, Singh hasd exposed the true colour of his training in the BJP and its ideological parent, the RSS. "It is very bad and dirty to target a woman in our culture."
BJP's BEDI NOT HAPPY
BJP leader Kiran Bedi said that an instance like this "does" distract from Modi's developmental agenda, but stressed, "I am sure it is a matter of concern for the Prime Minister. How he deals with it, let's leave it to him."
He (Giriraj Singh) has to question his parochial beliefs: Kiran Bedi (BJP) pic.twitter.com/tUROY6ybzY— ANI (@ANI_news) April 1, 2015
NOT THE FIRST TIME
Singh is no stranger to controversy. He caused a firestorm before the Lok Sabha polls last year when he said those who opposed Narendra Modi would have to go to Pakistan after the polls.
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.
While Modi has been trying focus on governance, the NDA regime has been buffeted by controversy because of politically incorrect remarks by ministers and MPs.
Union minister Sadhvi Niranjan embarrassed the Modi government with her ramzada-haramzada remarks at an election rally while BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj kicked up another storm by calling Mahatma Gandhi’s killer, Nathuram Godse, a patriot.
(With agency inputs)