Caught in a maelstrom of criticism for his comments about Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati on Tuesday, Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) leader Dayashankar Singh was on Wednesday removed from his post of the party's Vice President in Uttar Pradesh. Singh had, in a video, compared the Dalit leader to a prostitute, triggering outrage, and prompting senior party leader Arun Jaitley to personally apologise to the former UP Chief Minister in Parliament.
It is not uncommon for political rivals to go to any length ahead of a crucial state poll to show each other down. But Singh's comment is being seen as a new low, even for Indian poll politics. The BJP leader said Mayawati was allegedly "selling tickets to the highest bidder".
"Even a prostitute fulfils her contract. But Mayawati sells party tickets to the highest bidder. She'll sell it for a crore. But when someone offers her two crores, she'll sell it to the person. In the evening if someone offers her three crores, she'll sell a party ticket to him," Singh said.
"She's worse than a prostitute," he told reporters.
People are tired of the BSP, Singh claimed, and are looking at BJP as an alternative in the state that goes to polls in 2017.
In Parliament, a mortified Jaitley expressed "personal regret" and said "it is not right and I condemn the use of this word and if a person has said this, we will investigate."
"I express personal regret. I associate with your dignity and stand with you," Jaitley told Mayawati in Rajya Sabha. Faced with an avalanche of condemnation, Singh quickly backtracked saying "I can't even think of Mayawatiji that way. She has come up after a lot of struggle."
Mayawati, four-time chief minister of the state, is in a tough four-way battle with the Samajwadi Party, BJP, and Congress for one of India's most politically significant state.
It's also not the first time that strong, women leaders in Indian politics have been under sexist attacks by political opponents. BJP leader and former Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani's past as a TV actress is routinely dragged into debates by online trolls to cast aspersion on her abilities as a minister.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi's commitment to Indian politics regularly comes under scrutiny because of her Italian descent.
Singh's comment has seriously embarrassed the party.
"I express personal regret. I associate with your dignity and stand with you."
Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, DMK's Kanimozhi, Congress' Kumari Selja and Renuka Chowdhury, TK Rangarajan of CPI(M) and Satish Chandra Mishra of BSP protested against Singh's comment.
A visibly agitated Mayawati, who was present in the House, thanked Jaitley and all other members for their condemnation of Singh's remarks but demanded that BJP leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah discuss the matter, expel Singh from the party and take action against him.
She said mere expression of regret will not suffice and added, "His (Singh's) remarks apply for his sister and daughter and not for me. The whole country will not forgive BJP... people will come on the streets."
Mayawati said the remarks by the BJP leader reflected the "capitalistic mindset" and asserted that never in her political career had she used any derogatory or personal remarks against her adversaries or questioned their character though there could be idealogical differences.
"His (Singh's) remarks apply for his sister and daughter and not for me. The whole country will not forgive BJP... people will come on the streets."
The BSP chief said she represented the most oppressed and exploited people of the country and had dedicated her whole life to them. She said the BSP always collected funds from the poor to carry forward the movement started by Kanshi Ram so that it does not have to rely on capitalists.
"On my birthday, I have told my supporters not to give me any expensive gifts like gold and jewelery but make economic contributions to the party," she said.
Mayawati attacked the BJP, saying it was jittery by BSP and its anti-Dalit mindset has been exposed as it has still not sacked a minister who had compared Dalits to dogs, an apparent reference to Minister of State V K Singh.
As the uproar over the issue continued, the Deputy Chairperson adjourned the House till tomorrow.
BSP MP S C Mishra said that the party will carry forward the issue and take legal action against Singh for his utterances under the SC/ST Act as they do not expect the government to take any action in this regard. "We will drag him to court," he said outside Parliament.
(With inputs from PTI)