‘Rashtrapatni’ Row Sparks Heated Exchange Between Smriti Irani And Sonia Gandhi, Leads To War Of Words Between Parties

‘Rashtrapatni’ Row Sparks Heated Exchange Between Smriti Irani And Sonia Gandhi, Leads To War Of Words Between Parties
Image sources: Swarajya/Onmanorama

Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has come under fire for his ‘Rashtrapatni’ remark, which he claims was a “slip of tongue”, not intended to disrespect the newly elected President Droupadi Murmu. Meanwhile, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ministers claim that Chowdhury knew what the term meant, and used it to demean the President and her office. 

On Thursday, the situation escalated when Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani got into a verbal duel in the Parliament after the session was adjourned. Several narratives have emerged about this exchange (since nothing is on record after the House was adjourned), however, later that day, the Congress issued an official statement which alleged that Irani used “abusive words” and a “derogatory tone”. On the other hand, the BJP countered this version with Union finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman accusing Sonia of speaking in a “threatening tone” with BJP members. 

Amid the commotion following this exchange, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Supriya Sule and All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Mahua Moitra were reportedly seen taking Sonia Gandhi away from the situation. Furthermore, both Houses of the Parliament also witnessed frequent adjournments due to the BJP members’ repeated protesting over the remarks made by Chowdhury. They also demanded that Sonia Gandhi apologise to the nation on behalf of the Congress MP and the party. Several women BJP MPs including Union Ministers Nirmala Sitharaman and Shobha Karandlaje also took part in the protests, raising slogans against Chowdhury in the Parliament complex.

On the sidelines of this political storm, the National Commission for Women (NCW) and 13 state commissions for women have also released a statement condemning the Chowdhury, who is also the president of the West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee, for referring to President Murmu as ‘Rashtrapatni’. “The National Commission for Women and all the State Commissions for women strongly condemn Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury’s (MP) words where he has called the Hon’ble President of India ‘rashtrapatni’,” read the statement. It added, “His words are deeply insulting, sexist and constitute an attempt to humiliate the Hon’ble President. We call upon right-thinking persons to condemn his words in the strongest possible language.”

“National Commission for Women and all the State Commissions for women who were present in quarterly meeting at Visakhapatnam condemned the derogatory and sexist remark made by @adhirrcinc against President of India. @ncwIndia is sending him summons,” said NCW chairperson Rekha Sharma, on Twitter. The NCW has issued a notice to Chowdhury, asking him to appear before the commission on August 3, in person, to give a written explanation regarding his controversial remarks.

Amid the ongoing row, BJP workers in Madhya Pradesh’s Dindori district have also lodged a complaint against Chowdhury. Reportedly, the FIR has been filed under IPC sections 153 (B) (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration) and 505 (A) (statements conducing to public mischief).

Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury Apologises

The leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha and Congress MP from Behrampore Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, following major backlash for calling President Droupadi Murmu ‘Rashtrapatni’, presented a defence for his remarks on Thursday evening. He claimed that it was a “slip of tongue” and that he never intended to disrespect the President. 

Chowdhury went on to accuse the BJP of making a “mountain out of a molehill” over the issue, indicating that he will apologise to President Murmu personally, and not to “these pakhandis” (hypocrites – while referring to the BJP). Reportedly, the Congress leader has also sought time from the President tomorrow to apologise if she found his remarks offensive.

“What should I do? I said it and realised I uttered a wrong word. I even looked for mediapersons to request them to not focus on it. However, I couldn’t find them,” said Chowdhury to reporters outside the Parliament yesterday. “I am a Bengali and not used to Hindi. I made a mistake, I agree,” he added. This statement was made a day after the Congress MP made the controversial remark, reportedly, following a meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi to discuss the issue. 

“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,” said Chowdhury, in a video message later yesterday. He also alleged that “the issue is being blown out of proportion”, and that he does not “have the remotest intention of humiliating the highest chair of our country”.

Backlash Over Remarks 

Union ministers Nirmala Sitharaman and Smriti Irani have made statements alleging that it was a deliberate insult by the Congress leader against the President. “Chowdhury’s comments were not a slip of tongue. It was a deliberate sexist insult against the President,” said Sitharaman in a brief statement in the Rajya Sabha. 

On the other hand, Irani has alleged that the Congress “could not tolerate” Murmu’s candidacy, and has been targeting her since the BJP-led NDA named her as the presidential candidate. “The Congress leader has disrespected the President. The Congress could not tolerate that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made a poor tribal woman a Presidential candidate. Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury’s remark is anti-Adivasi, anti-poor and anti-woman,” said Irani in the Lok Sabha. 

The BJP also put forth six of its tribal leaders, including Union ministers Kiren Rijiju, Sarbananda Sonowal, and Bharati Pawar, to criticise the Congress over the issue. “It was not a slip of tongue. If you watch the clip, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury clearly (referred to President Murmu as) ‘Rashtrapati’ twice, then he corrected himself to say ‘Rashtrapatni.’ Such matters should not be taken lightly,” said Rijiju, earlier today. “He is an anti-national and anti-tribal person. And how can he trivialise this issue by saying that he can go to the President and seek an apology? Is it that simple? It is condemnable,” added the Law Minister.

In addition to BJP leaders, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati also termed Chowdhury’s remarks as “very unfortunate, shameful and condemnable”. Reportedly, she also said that the Congress should abandon its casteist mindset and apologise to the nation.

Congress leader Manish Tewari also went on to criticise his party member, as he took to Twitter and said, “Lady or Gentleman anyone occupying a constitutional office is equally Hon’ble. Respect has to be given & should be accorded too that institution. Any person on a particular position becomes analogous too or with that office. No point in getting lost in the maze of gender.”

The Smriti Irani And Sonia Gandhi Face-off  

The heated spat between Sonia Gandhi and Smriti Irani has taken the centre stage amid the controversy. On Thursday, the Congress president and the BJP union minister got into an alleged war of words over the issue after the parliament session had been adjourned, and Gandhi reportedly walked towards treasury benches to talk with BJP MP Rama Devi. Subsequently, the Congress released an official statement on the incident.

“Sonia Gandhi was talking to a BJP MP, Rama Devi. Smriti Irani came to Sonia Gandhi and spoke abusive words in a very derogatory tone. When Sonia-ji politely told her, ‘I am not talking to you, I am talking to another MP,’ Smriti Irani shouted, ‘You don’t know me, who I am’. MPs of many other parties and Congress MPs are witnesses to this incident,” said Jairam Ramesh, the general secretary in charge of communications of the All India Congress Committee (AICC). 

The statement also claimed that Irani had been “heckling”, which goes against Parliamentary discipline. “What kind of behaviour is this? Can an MP not even talk to a fellow MP? Smriti Irani can make her point in a political way. Why is she taking such a heckling attitude with a senior MP and a party president?” read the statement in Hindi.

Additionally, reports have indicated that Smriti Irani physically pointed her fingers towards Gandhi and said, “How dare you… don’t behave like this. This is not your party office.” Other eyewitnesses reportedly said that Gandhi told Rama Devi, “Adhir Rajan Chowdhury has already apologised. What is my fault?” As per Congress members, after this, Irani intervened and questioned, “Madam may I help you? It was I who took your name.”

Reportedly, several women Congress MPs have alleged in a press conference that BJP MPs subjected their party president to heckling and verbal assault, and have demanded that Irani apologise. “The way those BJP MPs started heckling Sonia Gandhi… she could have been injured. We somehow brought her out. I demand an apology from Smriti Irani and PM Modi,” said Congress MP Geeta Koda.

Meanwhile, TMC MP Mahua Moitra, who supposedly witnessed the exchange, took to Twitter and said, “Was in Lok Sabha when 75 year old lady senior leader encircled & heckled pack-wolf style when all she did was walk over & speak (masked) to another senior lady panel chairperson. Disgusted to read BJP lies & false version in press.” According to Moitra, she along with her party colleagues went on to form a circle around Gandhi and got her out of the situation. “Mrs Gandhi, who had her mask on, did not speak impolitely to Irani. She just said she was talking to some other MP (Rama Devi),” added Moitra. 

The BJP went on to counter the Congress’ version of the story. “Some of our Lok Sabha MPs felt threatened when Sonia Gandhi came up to our senior leader Rama Devi to find out what was happening, during which, one of our members approached there and she (Sonia) said ‘you don’t talk to me’,” said Sitharaman.

In a recent development, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and 23 other MPs from the Congress party wrote a letter to the Lok Sabha Speaker, calling this incident “unsavoury and uncouth”. They added, “The situation had come to such a pass that Gandhi could have been injured seriously. Finally, it was the female MPs of the Congress and other opposition parties who escorted Gandhi to safety”. They also sought the speaker’s intervention in sending this matter to the Privilege Committee, stating that the “unruly behaviour” of the alleged members warrants their suspension from the House.


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