Congress president Rahul Gandhi has landed himself in a controversy after he took a dig at prime minister Narendra Modi over the Rafale deal: Modi, he said, got “a woman” to defend him in Parliament over the controversial deal.
The prime minister, never slow to respond to both real and imagined slights, then accused Gandhi of insulting all Indian women with his remark.
Gandhi didn’t apologise, but resorted to more patriarchal language to demand answers from Modi, this time bunging in an exhortation to “be a man” and also adding a line about respect for women beginning at home.
Gandhi’s remarks have been criticised by many, especially BJP leaders, who have called him a “misogynist”.
Gandhi’s exhortation to Modi to ‘be a man’ harks back to outdated tropes about ‘true’ masculinity being linked to valour. In this patriarchal chest-beating discourse, being equated to a woman is the same as being weak or ineffectual. The BJP’s response, by trending #BeAMan on Twitter and holding forth on what ‘real men’ do or don’t do, isn’t much better either.
The National Commission for Women (NCW) on Thursday issued Gandhi a notice, with chairperson Rekha Sharma calling the statement “pathetic”, “sexist” and “misogynistic”.
Twitter users have also called out the Congress leader for his remarks.
BJP leaders react
The BJP has been quick to interpret Gandhi’s remark as an insult to defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
Modi said Sitharaman had floored the opposition in the Lok Sabha by coming up with “fact after fact” on the Rafale deal. “They are bent upon insulting a woman defence minister,” he said, without naming Gandhi.
“This is not an insult to a woman, but an insult to entire India’s women power, for which these irresponsible leaders will have to pay the price.”
BJP president Amit Shah also targeted Gandhi, accusing him of resorting to “misogyny” and “insulting” women. Shah said the Congress and its leaders owed an apology to “India’s Nari Shakti”.
Union ministers Smriti Irani and Sushma Swaraj also tweeted:
BJP IT cell chief Amit Malviya said Gandhi betrays the “misogynistic mindset of the Congress”.
However, even as the BJP tried to take the moral high ground on the issue, their hashtag #BeAMan also came under criticism.
This is not the first time Indian politicians have used the language of misogyny to counter rivals.
After the mutilation of two Indian soldiers in May 2017, Congress leader Kapil Sibal had wondered if Union Minister Smriti Irani would now “gift bangles” to Modi as she had wanted to send the same to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after a similar killing in 2013, reported IANS.
RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav had in 2015 said Union Minister Giriraj Singh “should be made to wear bangles, vermilion, bindi, and his face should be blackened”. He was reacting to Singh’s comment on Sonia Gandhi, questioning whether Congress would have accepted her as a leader had she not been “white-skinned”.
(With PTI inputs)