New Delhi/Patna (IANS): Union Minister Giriraj Singh caused embarrassment to the government and triggered outrage on Wednesday with a racist remark about Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s skin colour. The Congress demanded his dismissal, while Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra said he was “appalled” at the remark which was a reflection of the BJP leader’s lack of respect for women.
Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah is said to have called up Giriraj Singh, the minister of state for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME), and rebuked him for the remark on Sonia Gandhi.
The Nigerian mission in New Delhi indicated it might take up the issue with the Indian government.
Giriraj Singh, who has also stoked controversy in the past, told reporters in Patna on Tuesday that he wondered if former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had married a woman who was not white-skinned, would the Congress have accepted her as its president.
“If Rajiv Gandhi had married a Nigerian and if she wasn’t white-skinned, would the Congress accept her (Sonia Gandhi) as a leader,” he said.
After the remarks caused outrage, Giriraj Singh expressed regret and said his remarks were made during an off-the-record conversation.
“During off-the-record conversation, there is talk of different kinds. How it was presented… If Sonia-ji or Rahul-ji have been hurt by my remarks, I express regret,” he said.
Businessperson Vadra wrote on Facebook: “I am appalled to read the comments by a union minister (Giriraj) on my mother-in-law, a woman of immense dignity. Is this the way we speak about a lady who has undergone hardships all through her life and has lost her loved ones for the nation. If the government and its ministers cannot respect her, if they make sexist/racist comments about her, what about all other women in country?” he asked.
Nigerian diplomat O.B. Okongor said Giriraj Singh should apologise for his racist remarks.
Terming the remarks unfortunate, Okongor said he expects the minister to withdraw the comment and apologise.
The diplomat said: “It was unfortunate that the comment is coming from a minister who also doubles as representative of India.”
“He should withdraw the comment and apologise to the people of Nigeria,” the diplomat added.
The Nigerian official said he would file a complaint against the minister’s remark with the Indian foreign ministry and notify his government for further instructions on the issue.
Distancing the party from Giriraj Singh’s remarks, BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli said these were remarks of an individual and “by no standard reflected thinking of BJP or the government”.
“The comment is inappropriate, derogatory. He has expressed regret,” Kohli said.
Politicians roundly slammed the comments.
Congress leaders sought Giriraj Singh’s removal from the government.
“It reflects a degenerated mindset… How dare he say that about Sonia Gandhi who is our president,” Congress general secretary Ambika Sonia said, adding that Giriraj Singh expresed regret when things started “getting hot for him”.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, in a statement, condemned “the intemperate and distasteful remarks”, saying they border “on insanity”.
Surjewala said that in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, Giriraj Singh had said everybody opposing Narendra Modi should leave India and go to Pakistan.
RJD chief Lalu Prasad described as “dirty politics” Giriraj Singh’s remarks and said that by targeting Sonia Gandhi, the minister exposed the true colour of his training in the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
“For conduct of this nature, he was rewarded by being appointed as a minister in the union cabinet… the prime minister must dismiss such a minister and apologise to the nation.”
Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Brinda Karat termed the remarks “disgusting and sickening”.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar termed the remarks “highly condemnable”.
In Patna, a group of Youth Congress workers threw eggs and tomatoes at Giriraj Singh’s house in Anandpuri area. They also tore off hoardings and posters of the minister at his residence.