Modi, Tharoor And The ‘Rs 50 Crore Girlfriend’: Chief Minister's Sexist Jibe Stirs Controversy In India

  on October 31 2012 8:13 AM

A comment made by Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of the north western Indian state of Gujarat, about the wife of a minister has stirred a debate on a range of issues starting from honoring the modesty of women to the public display of affection (PDA), heating up the media and social networking sites.

It all started with Modi, who many consider as a strong contender for the post of the prime minister if the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wins the general elections in 2014, made an indirect attack on Sunanda Pushkar, wife of Minister of State for Human Resource Development Shashi Tharoor.

During a rally in Himachal Pradesh Monday, Modi called Pushkar a “Rs 50 crore girlfriend.”

"There was a Congress leader who was a minister in Parliament. He was accused of amassing wealth from cricket. He had said in Parliament that he is not connected to the Rs 50 crore( 500 million) in the lady's name. Have you ever heard of Rs 50 crore girlfriend?" he said.

Modi was referring to a controversy relating to a cricket franchise involving Sunandar, who was Tharoor’s girlfriend then. The controversy led to Tharoor’s resignation from the Ministry of External Affairs in 2010.Tharoor was re-inducted as the Minister of State for Human Resource Development in a cabinet reshuffle Sunday.

Tharoor, who is popular in the social media circles through his Twitter account, retorted, tweeting: “My wife is worth a lot more than your imaginary 50 crores. She is priceless. But you need2be able2love some1 2understand that." Tharoor has over 1.5 million followers on Twitter.

There was a public outrage over the sexist and derogatory comment. The mainstream media and the social media were abuzz with debates pro and against both Modi and Tharoor. Tharoor’s tweet was retweeted 1,780 times while Modi’s supporters attacked Tharoor, leading to much chatter in the social media circles.

In an interview with NDTV, Pushkar condemned Modi’s offensive remark and said: "How can he stoop to something like that? It is the land of Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel...and then you've got this guy...I was just shocked."

Terming Modi “anti-woman,” Pushkar called on all women to vote against him. "This guy wants to win an election...who has put a price tag on a woman. I want to ask the women about this country- would you want a man like this to lead you?" 

Several political parties, including the Left parties and the Congress, along with women right groups, condemned Modi for insulting a woman while the BJP leaders defended him.

Referring to Tharoor’s tweet "you need to be able to love someone to understand that," which took a jibe on Modi’s bachelor status, BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi called Tharoor the “international love guru” and said a ministry of “love affairs” should be created for the later.  

The controversial remarks and Pushker’s retort have whipped up a debate on the PDA in the social media circles.  

The Tharoor couple, who have made headlines for their PDA, have been vehemently defending their right to remain affectionate. Pushker defended the PDA and said: “I grew up in a family where my father and mother would kiss and hug me at the drop of a hat. Shashi is an affectionate person.  Only Shashi is targeted...probably because we're still in love," she said.   "I don't want to name names but I am glad to see all our young ministers are very affectionate towards their wives."

In India, where the public display of affection is a taboo and where the politicians are hardly seen expressing their affection in public, lessons on PDA would be a long shot.

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