Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee chief Kamal Nath on Monday apologised for his remarks at state minister Imarti Devi, which landed him in controversy.
At a bypoll campaign meeting in Dabra (SC) Assembly constituency in Gwalior on Sunday, Nath had compared the qualities of Congress candidate Suresh Raje and rival candidate Devi from the BJP. “Suresh Raje is a simple man. He is not like the person. What is the name of the person?" he had said.
As the crowd shouted Devi’s name, Nath called her an “item", saying, “Why should I name her? You know her better than I do. You should have warned me. Ye kya item hai."
An “item" refers to an object or inventory. In the Indian context, it is also used as slang to refer to a sensual girl. An “item song" in a Bollywood movie is also used to describe a song where women dance to catchy tunes.
“If somebody is hurt by my item remark, then I’m sorry for that," Nath said on Monday, hours after he tried to justify his remarks by saying that the names of the leaders present with him on the dais in Dabra were listed as “item number one, item number two", which is what he had read out. He asked how could that be taken as an insult by anyone.
“It’s not proper to say that all the women have been insulted, all the women should be respected and there is no doubt about this," he added.
Nath, in a letter to Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Monday evening, alleged that the BJP was misleading people. Chouhan had earlier written to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, asking her to condemn Nath’s remarks and remove the former chief minister from all party posts.
“I didn’t make any disgraceful remarks but you served lies….The word I said has a lot of meanings. Your party is serving lies and misleading by interpreting the word arbitrarily," he said in the letter. “Under your 16-year-long government, the state remained on top in rape cases, crime against women but you remained silent."
“If you had been moved over the honor of women and Dalits, you would have observed silence and fast for Hathras incident, the incident involving Swami Chinmayanand, one involving BJP MLA Kuldeep Sengar and the incident with women detainees in Rewa Jail, but by mentioning the woman’s caste in the letter (to Sonia Gandhi) you clearly demonstrated the mindset of your immoral politics," Nath said.
Nath also alleged that a Union minister and a cabinet colleague of Chouhan have recently used derogatory terms for women.
“You should have written a letter to your party president informing about the remarks of the union minister and cabinet colleague by apologizing to the women of the state and observing silent fast," the Congress leader said.
Bypolls to 28 Madhya Pradesh assembly seats will be held on November 3 and the counting of votes will take place on November 10.
The National Commission for Women earlier in the day sought an explanation from Nath for his jibe against Devi. It has also forwarded the matter to the Election Commission for necessary action.
“The Commission strongly condemns this irresponsible and disparaging statement made by the leader. The words used in the video are highly defamatory and shows disrespect towards the dignity of a woman," the NCW said in a statement. “At a time when we want more women to enter politics, such disrespectful remarks against a woman leader, that too from a person holding such a responsible position is very unfortunate."
Poll panel seeks report
The Election Commission on Monday sought a “detailed report" from the chief electoral officer of Madhya Pradesh on Nath’s remarks.
Devi and 21 other MLAs loyal to Jyotiraditya Scindia had resigned from the Congress and the state assembly and joined the BJP in March, in the process bringing down the Nath government.
“Based on the report received from the chief electoral officer of MP, we have asked for a detailed report. It would be with the Commission on Tuesday. Based on it, the Commission would take a view," said a senior EC functionary.
Meanwhile, BJP leaders in the state, led by Chouhan, held a protest against Nath. Chouhan, Scindia, Union minister Narendra Singh Tomar and other party leaders sat on a two-hour silent fast on Monday to protest against Nath’s remarks. Tomar said Sonia Gandhi and party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra should apologise to Devi.
Nath also came in for flak from Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati who asked Dalits to “teach the Congress a lesson" over the remark. Devi is a Dalit leader.
“Will Sonia Gandhi tolerate if such a remark is made against her daughter?" Devi asked.
Union minister Smriti Irani said the Congress will not take any action against Nath for his derogatory remark.
Nath’s media coordinator said the controversy over the remarks was aimed at BJP’s attempts to gain advantage for the Assembly bypolls.
(With inputs from agencies)