Rajat Sharma

Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury should apologise for insulting the President

AKBThere was acrimonious uproar in Parliament both on Thursday and Friday, amid protests and counter protests both by BJP and opposition MPs over the controversial remark made about President Droupadi Murmu by Congress Parliamentary Party leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury. In a television interview, Chowdhury had used the ‘Rashtrapatni’ remark.

BJP MPs led by Union Minister Smriti Irani strongly objected to this remark and accused Chowdhury of hurling a ‘deliberate sexist insult’ at India’s first Adivasi woman President. Chowdhury has since clarified that it was his ‘slip of tongue’ and that he never intended to cause disrespect of the President. He however said, he would apologize only to President Murmu personally.

In a fiery intervention in Lok Sabha on Thursday, Union Minister Smriti Irani slammed the Congress President Sonia Gandhi and demanded an apology for what she called ‘maliciously targeting’ President Murmu. Irani described the Congress as “anti-women, anti-tribal and anti-Dalit”. Almost the entire BJP bloc in Lok Sabha was on its feet, shouting slogans ‘Sonia Gandhi Maafi Maango”. Smriti Irani said, “Congress could not tolerate that Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a poor tribal woman as the President. Soniaji sanctioned humiliation of a woman sitting in the highest constitutional post.”

In a fresh twist to the controversy, soon after the Speaker adjourned the House following Smriti Irani’s intervention, a heated row erupted between Irani and Sonia Gandhi. The Congress President went over to the BJP benches and asked a woman BJP MP Rama Devi, “what was my fault? Adhir Chowdhury has already apologized.” During the conversation, Smriti Irani cut in and told Sonia Gandhi, “Madam, May I help you? I took your name.” To which, Sonia Gandhi retorted, “Don’t talk to me.”

According to NCP MP Supriya Sule, she walked up to Sonia Gandhi and told her “this exchange is not going anywhere”. Sule said, “Soniaji and I left and I went and dropped her to her car.” During the heated conversation between Irani and Sonia Gandhi, Supriya Sule and some women MPs from Trinamool Congress, surrounded Sonia Gandhi and took her away, even as several women MPs from BJP reached the scene. While BJP MPs alleged that Sonia Gandhi had threatened Irani, Congress leaders alleged that BJP MPs had heckled and insulted Sonia Gandhi.

The Congress, which had been creating uproar in Parliament for the last ten days of Monsoon Session, appeared to be on the backfoot, and BJP members appeared to be aggressive. BJP leaders demanded unconditional apology from Chowdhury for his ‘Rashtrapatni’ remark because he has insulted the post of President. Chowdhury did not tender apology and instead said, “will you hang me for this slip of tongue?” Since Chowdhury is the leader of the largest opposition party in Lok Sabha, his remark cannot be overlooked as a slip of tongue. There were protests in different cities of India by BJP workers, who burnt effigies of Chowdhury for insulting the Adivasi woman President.

Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju said that the matter became worse when Chowdhury was adamant and he refused to tender apology inside the House. “This shows Congress party’s mentality towards women and tribals”, he said. BJP chief ministers Shivraj Chauhan, Pushkar Singh Dhami, Manohar Lal Khattar, Pramod Sawant, Yogi Adityanath and Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis said Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury’s remark was an insult to ‘naari shakti’ (women power).

Chowdhury told reporters, “Why should I apologize because of BJP’s demand? They are hypocrites”. On the other hand, Sonia Gandhi, when asked by reporters, said, “Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has already apologized.” On the Smriti-Sonia row, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said, “It was Sonia Gandhi who spoke rudely. She was threatening our members. She should now apologize to the nation politely.” The National Women’s Commission has sent a notice to Chowdhury and sought his reply by August 3. The NCW has also sent notice to Sonia Gandhi.

In the afternoon, Congress MPs met the Lok Sabha Speaker and demanded CCTV footage of the row between Sonia Gandhi and Smriti Irani. They demanded that the matter be referred to the Privileges Committee, and those MPs who were shouting slogans must be suspended. Interestingly, Chowdhury was also part of this delegation, though the entire controversy arose due to his remark about the President. Chowdhury wrote a letter to the Speaker seeking his intervention in the mater relating to ‘heckling’ of Sonia Gandhi. Chowdhury later said, he will meet the President personally and apologize to her, but he would not apologize because of BJP’s demand.

I feel that had Chowdhury apologized soon after making the controversial remark, this would not have become a big issue. Droupadi Murmu is the President of our Republic, and Supreme Commander-in-Chief of our Armed Forces. She is an Adivasi and a woman. She must be accorded full respect. If Chowdhury felt that he had made a mistake, he could have said that ‘I seek apology with folded hands’, both inside Parliament and also while meeting the President. By doing so, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury’s stature would not have been diminished. He could have gained respect from all and the prestige of the President could have been enhanced.

Unfortunately, his party president Sonia Gandhi was embroiled in an unnecessary controversy. The manner in which she quipped at a reporter by saying that “Chowdhury has already apologized”, smacks of a bit of arrogance. Had she politely told reporters that the words used by Chowdhury against President Murmu were improper, and that he will be asked to apologize, the matter could have ended there. But a wrong message has gone after both Chowdhury and Sonia Gandhi remained adamant and BJP got the chance to allege that the Congress does not respect women and tribals. Remarks by other Congress leaders have also dented the image of the party.

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