Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury’s “rashtrapatni” remark snowballed into a major political row on Thursday with the BJP accusing the opposition party of insulting President Droupadi Murmu and demanding that Congress chief Sonia Gandhi should apologise to the nation.
In his defence, Chowdhury, who is the leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha, said he never intended to disrespect the President and his remark was a “slip of the tongue”. He accused the BJP of making a “mountain out of a molehill” over the issue.
However, the BJP went all guns blazing against the Congress, accusing party president Sonia Gandhi of sanctioning the “humiliation” of Murmu.
Here is a round-up of the latest developments …
Adhir’s remark triggers row
The ruckus in the lower house started when Chowdhary referred to Murmu, India’s first tribal President, as “rashtrapatni”.
The President is called “rashtrapati” in Hindi.
The remark triggered an uproar in Lok Sabha and disrupted the proceedings in the lower house with the BJP demanding an apology from Chowdhary.
Union minister Smriti Irani accused Chowdhury of disrespecting Murmu as well as the entire tribal community, women, poor and the downtrodden by his remark.
She demanded an apology from Congress president Sonia Gandhi for Chowdhury’s remark, claiming that Gandhi sanctioned the “humiliation” of a poor tribal woman who has become the country’s President.
Sonia Gandhi vs Smriti Irani in LS
A face-off between Sonia Gandhi and Smriti Irani in the Lok Sabha chamber on Thursday added more fuel to fire during the adjournent.
As the lower house adjourned soon after 12 noon, Sonia walked across to the treasury benches and sought to know from BJP member Rama Devi why she was dragged into the issue.
Irani stepped in and was seen gesturing towards Sonia and apparently protesting against Chowdhury’s remark. Sonia at first tried to ignore Irani’s protestations, but soon was seen gesturing towards the minister and speaking angrily.
Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman claimed that Sonia “told a BJP member not to talk to her”. However, the Union minister did not name any BJP leader in particular.
NCP member Supriya Sule and Trinamool member Aparupa
were seen escorting the Congress president away from the Treasury benches as BJP members flocked around Rama Devi and Gandhi.
BJP lashes out at Chowdhary
Besides Irani, several BJP leaders trained their guns on the Congress, demanding an apology from Chowdhary.
Union minister Piyush Goyal said that Chowdhary deliberately called President Murmu “Rashtrapatni” and repeated the jibe twice.
“An apology has to come from the Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi. There’s no question of anything else,” top government sources said.
In Rajya Sabha, Nirmala Sitharaman demanded an apology from Sonia Gandhi.
“It was a deliberate sexist insult. Sonia Gandhi should apologise to the President of India and the country,” she said.
Union parliamentary affairs minister Pralhad Joshi also slammed the opposition and sought an immediate apology from the Berhampore MP.
BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said that Sonia must apologise to the nation over Adhir Ranjan’s “derogatory” remark against President Murmu.
Meanwhile, BJP members including finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman staged a protest at Parliament against the Congress MP’s remark.
‘Slip of tongue’
Facing massive heat from the BJP, Chowdhury said he never intended to disrespect the President and his remark was a “slip of the tongue”.
“Yesterday, when we were holding a protest at Vijay Chowk, journalists asked where we wanted to go. I said ‘rashtrapatni’ only once by mistake. I urged the journalists not to show my video where I committed a mistake. The BJP is creating a row over it now,” he said.
“What should I do? I said it and realised I uttered the wrong word. I even looked for media persons to whom I had said this to request them to not focus on it. However, I couldn’t find them,” he added, a day after the remark.
In a video message later, he said India’s President, be it Brahmin or tribal, is respected by all.
Cong accuses BJP MPs of heckling, intimidating Sonia
Meanwhile, the Congress took the attack to the BJP and accused the saffron party of heckling Sonia Gandhi in Parliament.
“Atrocious and outrageous behaviour by Union Minister Smriti Irani in the Lok Sabha today! But will she be pulled up by the Speaker? Are rules only meant for the Opposition?” Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said.
Interacting with the media on the Parliament premises, Congress’s deputy leader in Lok Sabha Gaurav Gogoi alleged that objectionable slogans were raised against Sonia.
“The BJP thought Sonia Gandhi would get scared and leave, but being the fearless leader she is, she went up to those women MPs and wanted to speak to them in a very dignified way but that was met with very abhorrent behaviour from BJP MPs and we saw that women and male MPs and ministers surrounded her and created an atmosphere where she could have been shoved and could have been hurt,” Gogoi said.
Sonia Gandhi remained fearless and dignified throughout, he asserted.
Asked about the BJP’s outrage against Chowdhury, Gogoi said the Congress leader in the Lok Sabha has already apologised.
“Adhir Ranjan made a mistake and he accepted it but the way Sonia Gandhi was treated, it shows that the expectations they (BJP) have from us, they are unable to show it towards others,” he said.
Congress MP Jyotsna Mahant alleged that Union minister Irani disrespected onia Gandhi and spoke with her while pointing a finger at her.
“This is shameful. The BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi must apologise for this behaviour,” she said.
Another Congress leader Geeta Kora said the behaviour Gandhi was subjected to was “not acceptable”.
(With inputs from agencies)