Minister’s remark on Sonia Gandhi triggers row

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New Delhi: Causing yet another embarrassment to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), union minister Giriraj Singh raked up a controversy with his “white skin” remark on Congress president Sonia Gandhi but “regretted” it a day later on Wednesday.

The statement, however, prompted the Congress party to seek an apology from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and demand the errant minister’s sacking.

At an event in Bihar on Tuesday, Singh, the Minister of State for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) said: “If Rajiv Gandhi had married a Nigerian and if she wasn’t white skinned, would Congress accept her (Sonia Gandhi) as a leader?”

Just a day ahead of the BJP’s national executive meet, the remark triggered a volley of reactions from across the political spectrum as well as the Nigerian envoy in Delhi.

Left fuming over the “racist” remarks, the Congress lashed out at the union minister, saying: “The Congress strongly deprecates and condemns the intemperate and distasteful remarks of the union minister, bordering on insanity.

“It appears that continuous quest to appease Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made him lose his balance. Such remarks are reflective of lack of moral fiber in BJP and its cadre,” it added.

Singh, however, said: “It was an off the record remark.”

“People do talk off the record with each other and it’s a different thing how it is presented. If I have hurt anyone’s sentiments, including Sonia and Rahul, I regret what I said,” he said.

The BJP later distanced itself from the controversy.

“The BJP doesn’t do politics over colour or caste. We believe in ‘Sabka saath sabka vikas’ (Cooperation of all, development of all),” BJP leader Shahnawaz Hussain said.

Baffled at the minister’s choice of words, Acting Nigerian High Commissioner to India OB Okongor remarked, “The minister should have been much more circumspect…”

“We have good bilateral relations with India…but the union minister’s remarks are uncalled for, unacceptable,” he added.

Meanwhile, CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat also condemned Singh’s remarks saying: “This is a very derogatory remark and in full contempt for working women, this is racist.”

Seeking explanation from Modi, she said: “He (Giriraj Singh) is a serial offender. The PM has a duty to publicly correct this situation. What is the PM’s ‘Mann ki Baat’ on this? His silence reflects connivance and encouragement.”

Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh called for an “action” against the Barahiya MP as it was not the first time he had made such a derogatory remark.

Earlier during 2014 general elections, Singh had asked those opposing his party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi to “leave India and go to Pakistan”.

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