As the Lok Sabha descended into utter chaos today, Congress President Sonia Gandhi walked over to a BJP MP to ask why she was being dragged into a row over party leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury’s remark on President Droupadi Murmu. “What is my fault?” Sonia Gandhi is learnt to have asked Bihar MP Rama Devi. That’s when Union Minister Smriti Irani stepped in and was seen gesturing towards her — apparently protesting Mr Chowdhury’s “rashtrapatni” remark — leading to a brief, direct spat.
Ms Gandhi made the overture to Rama Devi as the House was adjourned around noon after BJP leaders — Ms Irani most prominent among them — raised slogans of “Sonia gandhi, maafi maango (apologise)”.
Rama Devi told the media that when Ms Gandhi asked her what her fault was, “I replied that her fault is to have chosen Mr Chowdhury as the Congress leader in the Lok Sabha.” In the middle of this conversation, Smriti Irani cut in. “Madam, may I help you? I took your name,” she told Ms Gandhi, according to sources.
Ms Gandhi at first ignored her, but was then seen gesturing back towards her and speaking angrily. “Don’t talk to me,” she is learnt to have told Ms Irani. NCP’s Supriya Sule and Trinamool Congress member Aparupa Poddar were seen escorting Sonia Gandhi away from the Treasury benches as BJP members flocked around Rama Devi and her.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman later said Ms Gandhi “put down a BJP member” and “resorted to threats, instead of apologising”. She did not name Ms Irani,
The Congress, however, demanded action and alleged double standards. “Atrocious and insulting behaviour by Union Minister Smriti Irani in the Lok Sabha today! But will she be pulled up by the Speaker? Are rules only meant for the Opposition,” Congress General Secretary Jairam Ramesh said on Twitter.
Former minister Milind Deora said he had never seen Ms Gandhi being rude or impolite, even when provoked. “This is not the first time that she has been targeted personally and of late, unjustly, both inside & outside Parliament. She has and will always endure,” he tweeted.
Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has, meanwhile, said he would apologise to the President but not to anyone else. “‘Rashtrapatni’ slipped out, that was my mistake. I am Bengali, not a Hindi-speaking person, so it slipped out. I never intended any insult to the country’s highest post, not in my wildest dreams can I think of doing so.