Two days before Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury’s “Rashtrapatni” remark rocked Parliament, there was a brief row in the Lok Sabha over the alternative word to address a woman President. When Simranjit Singh Mann, who was elected to the Lok Sabha in the recent by-election from Sangrur in Punjab, stated on the floor of the House that Droupadi Murmu should not be referred to as Rashtrapati, some senior members in the House took an offence and insisted on expunging his statement from the records.
Talking to The Indian Express, Mann, however, said he truly believes that “it is wrong to call a lady President Rashtrapati as it’s an insult to her”.
Mann’s intervention in the Lok Sabha on July 26, a day after Murmu was sworn in as the 15th President of India, came up during a debate on the Family Courts (Amendment) Bill, 2022, that seeks to amend the Family Courts Act-1984 to establish family courts in Himachal Pradesh with effect from February 15, 2019, and in Nagaland with effect from September 12, 2008. After Law Minister Kiren Rijiju replied to the debate on the Bill, Mann, while seeking clarifications, pointed out that the Minister has referred to the President as Rashtrapati. He sought to know how a woman President could be addressed to as Rashtrapati. However, the objections he raised were removed from the records after many MPs objected to his remarks.
BJD’s Bhartruhari Mahtab, senior MP from Cuttack in Odisha, said Mann’s remarks were “highly derogatory”. Mann retorted: “How is it derogatory?” Mahtab said the issue can be discussed later but requested the Chair – DMK’s A Raja – to get the remarks expunged. Later, BJP’s Nishikant Dubey also pointed out that the issue of term to refer to the President was settled in the Constituent Assembly debates itself. “We can discuss it separately. But please get this part expunged from the records,” Dubey said. Raja told the House that it has been done.
“What I suggested was that the word Rashtrapati is a wrong gender to address a woman President,” Mann told The Indian Express on Saturday. “It’s always good to address her as the President. If you want a gender-neutral word to refer to the President, you can use Sadar as in Hindustani, or if you want to go the right wing way, it can be ‘rashtrakarta’. Since ‘karta’ means one who runs the household…rashtrakarta can be a gender-neutral word.”
“I strongly believe Rashtrapati word is an insult to a woman President,” Mann, leader of Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar), said, insisting that the term should be “corrected” because “its wrong”. But Mann said “Rashtrapatni” was not an alternative, saying it was “very rude”.
Congress leader Chowdhury’s reference to President Murmu as “Rashtrapatni” in a video clip had led to a major controversy with the ruling BJP demanding an apology from him as well as party president Sonia Gandhi. The House witnessed unruly scenes and repeated disruptions after the row over Chowdhury’s reference led to a face-off between Union Minister Smriti Irani and Sonia Gandhi. Chowdhury, who maintained that he had made the reference mistakenly, tendered an apology. However, the furore over the reference continued to stall the proceedings of both the Houses.