Despite his boss Rahul Gandhi condemning his remark on the Dalit woman leader, Congress stalwart and former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath on Tuesday refused to apologise for his sexist slur against against Bharatiya Janata Party leader Imarti Devi, when he had called her an ‘item’.
Rahul Gandhi had called Kamal Nath’s comments ‘unfortunate’. “Kamal Nath ji is from my party but personally, I do not like the type of language that he used,” Rahul said. “I do not appreciate it, regardless of who he is. It is unfortunate.”
Nath, however, said that he had already clarified the context in which he used the controversial term. “Why should I apologise when I did not intend to insult anyone,” he asked. “If anyone felt insulted, I have already expressed regret.”
Nath has also written to Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, asking him ‘not to play politics’. Earlier, too, Kamal Nath had chosen to justify his misogynist comment and claimed that his remark was distorted to deviate public discourse from ‘main issues’ such as joblessness.
The term, ‘item’, is used in Hindi as a derogatory slang to objectify women as show them as objects of desire or as females with loose morals.
The objectionable remark was made while he was addressing a rally in the run-up to by-polls for 28 Madhya Pradesh Assembly seats scheduled for November 3.
What led to the ugly controversy
While addressing a political rally on Sunday, Kamal Nath referred to the Dalit politician as an ‘item’. “Suresh Raje ji hamare ummeedvar hai...yeh uske jaise nah hai...kya hai uska naam ... main kya uska naam lun? ...apko toh mujhe pehle savdhan karna chahiye tha ... yeh kya item hai… (Our candidate is not like her... what's her name? You know her better and should have warned me earlier... What an item!),” Kamal Nath said in Hindi while the crowd called out Imarti Devi’s name and were seen hooting and cheering at his despicable remarks.
The former Madhya Pradesh chief minister was addressing a campaign rally in Dabra for Congress candidate Suresh Raje. Imarti Devi is also contesting on the BJP ticket from Dabra.
The sexist remark came a couple of days after Imarti Devi accused him of bribing the MLAs when he was the chief minister. Imarti Devi, a former state minister, who switched ranks to the BJP after Jyotiraditya Scindia's rebellion, had told reporters on Thursday that Nath used to pay Rs 5 lakh to Congress MLAs who could not be granted ministerial posts.
Nath mounted a vicious attack on her while campaigning for the Congress candidate against her in Dabra. He also ended up saying "yeh kya item hai" in reference to her.
Imarti Devi breaks down
Meanwhile, a distraught Imarti Devi was reduced to tears because of the objectionable barb by Kamal Nath against her. She is the BJP candidate in the Madhya Pradesh bypoll.
Hurt by the comment, she responded by stating that Congress leader Sonia Gandhi should dismiss such leaders and the latter should be ‘taught a lesson’.
"Is it my fault that I am poor and born into a poor Scheduled Caste family? I want to request Sonia Gandhi not to keep people like Kamal Nath in Congress. If Kamal Nath uses such a language against me then what will happen to women of SC community. How can any woman move forward?" Imarti Devi told ANI.
"I want to make a request to BJP that such people should be taught a lesson. Is it my fault that I have a name which is Imarti. I used to consider Kamal Nath as an elder brother but today he has disrespected me. I want to say to him that you are not fit for politics," she added.
She further said that she was made a Cabinet minister in the Congress government at the behest of Jyotiraditya Scindia and not Kamal Nath.
"People had made me win by 62,000 votes and Jyotiraditya Scindia had made me a minister. But Kamal Nath is a man of ill-intentions. I stayed in the Congress for 10-12 years but BJP never used bad words for me," she said.
"Kamal Nath should be dismissed from his party. This is my request to Sonia Gandhi who is also a mother and hence should understand my pain," she added.
Shivraj Singh Chouhan demands apology
Meanwhile, the current Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan lashed out at Kamal Nath’s feudal mentality and said that Imarti Devi was a poor farmer's daughter, who had risen up on her own.
Chouhan tweeted: "Kamal Nath Ji! Imarti Devi is the daughter of a poor farmer who started her career by engaging in labour in the village and today she is contributing to nation-building by working as a public servant."
Nath is using objectionable words for a daughter who served Congress for so long, Chouhan said.
"It is an insult to not only Imarti Devi but also to Madhya Pradesh's daughters and sisters. Kamal Nath is using objectionable words for a daughter who served Congress for so long. It is a country where Mahabharat took place when Draupadi was disrespected. People won't tolerate it. Shame on him," Chouhan told ANI.
"I am distressed by the fact that the former Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh has used derogatory words for our present minister who served Congress for years, who rose from labourer to ministerial position," he added.
"Kamal Nath Ji, this is India where when Draupadi was insulted then an entire Mahabharat war was fought and an entire family was wiped away," Shivraj warned Kamal Nath.
He also took to Twitter to express his ire."Kamal Nath Ji! Imarti Devi is the daughter of a poor farmer who started her career by engaging in labour in the village and today she is contributing to nation-building by working as a public servant."
"Congress called me 'Bhookha-Nanga' (impoverished) and used a term like an 'item' for a woman. This reflects their feudal mindset," he added.
Chouhan and many BJP workers sat on a silent protest from 10 am to 12 pm today against Nath's comment on Imarti Devi.
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. Counting of votes of the bypolls will be held on November 10.
NCW to send notice to Kamal Nath
Reacting strongly to the derogatory remarks made by the Congress leader, National Commission for Womenchief Rekha Sharma informed on Twitter that she would issue a notice to Kamal Nath and also write to the Election Commission.
The Election Commission meanwhile has sought a ‘detailed report’ from the chief electoral officer of Madhya Pradesh on Nath's remarks against a woman candidate during a poll rally in the state.
Scindia slams Nath
BJP leader Jyotiraditya Scindia also lashed out at Congress leader Kamal Nath over his 'item' jibe.
"This is Congress's principle. First, Digvijay Singh had said something about Congress leader Meenakshi Natrajan which I don't remember, now Kamal Nath called BJP's Imarti Devi an 'item' while Ajay Singh called her 'Jalebi'. Congress never respects women," Scindia said.
The Rajya Sabha MP during his speech at the rally also urged the people of the constituency to teach the Congress leaders a lesson in the upcoming by-polls.
"Kamal Nath says Imarti Devi is an item, Ajay Singh says she's 'jalebi'. Close your doors for such people on November 3," he had said.
Additional inputs: PTI, Agencies