If there's a lesson in choosing your words well, especially while speaking to the electorate in India, let it be this one.
Days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared himself an "adopted son" of Uttar Pradesh (UP) at a rally to campaign for the assembly polls, he has been served a notice by the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, according to a report in The Telegraph.
Nahid Lari Khan, a member of the commission, currently run by the Samajwadi Party (SP) government in UP, informed the newspaper that she has filed an affidavit on 17 February, a day after Modi made the remark about his parentage.
Speaking in Hardoi on 16 February, Modi was riding high on emotions as he pointed out that 1,350 villages in the state have been electrified since he became PM in 2014. Modi, who had won a Lok Sabha seat from Varanasi, has stakes in UP, the country's most populous state, both as an individual as well as the leader of the party. A win in UP will also be seen as an endorsement of demonetisation, a bold move to scrap higher currency notes overnight, that has faced intense criticism and caused untold hardships to people, especially those dependent on industries that run mainly on cash.
While his self-description was a way of seeking the loyalty of the voters, it was also a riposte to his political rivals, the Congress and the Samajwadi Party. Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav, the leaders of the Congress and the SP, have launched a campaign in the state projecting themselves as the "true sons" of UP and, by extension, the more dependable candidates to run it.
Khan took offence at Modi's flippant attempt at showcasing himself as a son of the soil as it undermines "the spirit of The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2015, Chapter 8, Section 56 to 73". The PM's remark, she said, betrays his lack of sensitivity to the plight of thousands of children waiting to be adopted and the parents hoping to take them in. In India, the process of adopting a child can turn out to be complicated, long-drawn and difficult.
Earlier Priyanka Gandhi, who is Rahul's elder sibling and increasingly believed to be the real inheritor of the Congress's legacy, had snubbed Modi as well. Speaking at Rae Bareli, a Congress stronghold, she pointed out UP doesn't need adopted sons, since it has two of its own, her brother and Akhilesh Yadav, working for it already.
But the political tit-for-tat wasn't the end of the story. Within hours of the notice being served to Modi, a Ghaziabad couple in their 70s offered to adopt the 66-year-old prime minister as their "fourth son" as a sign of their allegiance to him. While there are legal hurdles to be overcome before their dream can come true, the move has taken the debate over lineage to another level of absurdity.
As political commentator Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay recently wrote in Firstpost, the fiasco over the "adopted son" remark is not only unwarranted but also makes little sense in the history of Indian politics. Politicians in the country, especially those in the Upper House of the Parliament, are routinely offered their seats to represent states they have no connection with. The classic example of this phenomenon is the former PM of India, Manmohan Singh, who held the office for a decade and is a Rajya Sabha member from Assam.
Several other Congress leaders have fought and won from seats in states they don't originally come from, including Indira Gandhi, whose return to political eminence happened from a constituency in Chikmagalur in Karnataka. The debate over insider-outsider to a state also opens up a more recent can of worms, when the BJP had questioned Rahul and Priyanka's mother Sonia Gandhi's right to be part of Indian politics as an Italian-origin person.
For now, the possibility of PM Modi finding a new family in Ghaziabad remains suspended. Khan has assured The Telegraph there are ways of dealing with the offender should he refuse to apologise for his remark but she has faith that matters won't come to such a pass.
Also on HuffPost