Union Minister Giriraj Singh has been caught on camera, wondering aloud: had Rajiv Gandhi married a Nigerian woman, someone who was not fair-skinned, would the Congress have accepted her leadership? Chances are, this was not a right-minded observation about the Indian obsession with fairness or the high entry barriers for women in politics. The comment was obviously directed at Congress president Sonia Gandhi but the cause for mirth also appeared to be the idea of Rajiv Gandhi marrying a Nigerian woman who then proceeded to call the shots in the party. The Nigerian high commission has good cause to demand an apology.
Giriraj Singh has long made himself a mouthpiece for things regressive. When the JD(U) broke its alliance with the BJP in Bihar, he accused Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of squabbling with Narendra Modi like a “dehati aurat (village woman)”. When campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections last year, he ordered everyone who opposed Modi to move to Pakistan. He then went on to ask why all terrorists belonged to “one community”. It is mystifying that there has been no public rebuke for him from the senior party leadership so far. Could it be that chastising an upper-caste Bihar leader does not fit in with its electoral calculations on the eve of assembly polls in the state?
Yet RJD chief Lalu Prasad’s response to Singh reflected the same unthinking racism and misogyny — Giriraj Singh, he felt, should be forced to wear bangles and a bindi, and have his face blackened in a ritual of humiliation. In a culture enamoured of fairness creams for marriageable women and rife with racial stereotypes about Africans, the BJP minister’s sentiments are, unfortunately, widely shared. His words mirror our worst prejudices back to us.