‘Hua to hua’ to ‘Chinese, African’: 7 remarks by Gandhi’s aide Sam Pitroda that left Congress red-faced

Sam Pitroda's past controversial statements include downplaying the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and questioning the Balakot air strikes. He also faced backlash for stating that temples won't solve India's issues.

Gulam Jeelani
Updated9 May 2024, 05:51 AM IST
Congress leader Sam Pitroda.
Congress leader Sam Pitroda.(PTI)

Sam Pitroda stepped down as the Chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress (IOC) on May 8, amid a political row over his remarks that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) termed ‘racist’ and the Congress party called ‘unacceptable’.

Pitroda, a close Gandhi family aide, triggered a fresh controversy in the middle of Lok Sabha election with his “people on the east look like the Chinese and those of the south look like Africans” remarks.

Top BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, used Pitroda's statement to corner the Congress party ahead of four remaining phases of general elections. 

This is not the first time that Pitroda, considered close to the Gandhi family, has put the Congress party in a tight spot. Many of his previous statements, too, triggered a political storm with the Congress party having to distance itself from his statements.

What has Sam Pitroda said now? 

In an exclusive interview with the Statesman, Pitroda described India as a "... diverse country.  "We have survived 75 years in a very happy environment where people could live together, leaving aside a few fights here and there. We could hold a country together as diverse as India, where people on the east look like Chinese, people on the West look like Arab, people on the North look like white and maybe people on the South look like Africans," he said.

Like in the past, the Congress disassociated itself from Pitroda's fresh remarks but not before a political feud ensued.

Also Read: Sam Pitroda on inheritance tax controversy: ‘Who said this should be done in India? Why is the BJP in panic?'

Speaking during an election rally in Telangana, the prime minister demanded a response from Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, saying that the country "won't tolerate disrespect on the basis of the colour of skin". Among other BJP leaders, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman lashed out at Pitroda for his ‘racist’ remark, saying that it reveals the mindset and attitude of Rahul Gandhi’s mentor.

Inheritance Tax Law

Less than two weeks ago, Pitroda, 81, triggered another political controversy with his statement on US inheritance tax law

Pitroda was heard in an interview advocating a US-type inheritance tax law in India, even as the Congress party said his views did not always reflect the party's position.

“In America, there is an inheritance tax. If one has 100 million USD worth of wealth and when he dies, he can only transfer probably 45 per cent to his children, 55 per cent is grabbed by the government. That's an interesting law. It says you, in your generation, made wealth, and you are leaving now, you must leave your wealth for the public, not all of it, half of it, which to me sounds fair," Pitroda said in an interview.

Inheritance tax refers to a state levy on the assets an individual receives as part of an inheritance. The US has no central inheritance tax, though some states have it.

Later, Pitroda clarified on April 24 that his comments were twisted to ‘deflect attention’ from the core issues. But clarification came after the Congress party distanced itself from his remarks and after the BJP leaders slammed him and his party. 

Also Read: Sam Pitroda steps down as Indian Overseas Congress Chairman as row erupts over his ‘Chinese, African’ remark

Pitroda's statement had assumed significance because Prime Minister Narendra Modi had been repeatedly accused the Congress of planning to redistribute the wealth of people among “those with more children," a charge the grand old party denied.

‘Hua to Hua’ on 1984 anti-Sikh riots

In May 2019, Pitroda, when questioned on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, set off a storm by replying “so what” to a question on the alleged involvement of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in the riots.

“Ab kya hai ’84 ka? Aapne kya kiya 5 saal mein, uski baat kariye. ’84 mein hua to hua. You were voted to create jobs. You were voted to create 200 smart cities. Aapne wo bhi nahi kiya. Aapne kuch nahi kiya isliye aap yahan wahan gup lagate hain. (What about 1984 (riots) now? Talk about what you did in the last five years. What happened in 1984 has happened. So what? You were voted to create jobs. You were voted to create 200 smart cities. You did not even do that. You did nothing, so you keep talking about here and there.) Pitroda had said this in response to a question on the BJP’s allegation that the instructions during the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 came from Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s office.

The remarks during the Lok Sabha elections 2019 had sparked a political row with Prime Minister Narendra Modi linking these comments to Rahul Gandhi. Rahul Gandhi condemned the comments and said Pitroda should apologise.

Pitroda later apologised for his remarks.

‘Happens all the time’ on Pulwama attack

In February 2019, Pitroda had questioned the veracity of Balakot air strikes by the Indian Air Force in the aftermath of the Pulwama attacks. Pitroda had also pitched for a dialogue with Pakistan and said it was wrong to blame all citizens of the neighbouring country for an attack in which a few were involved.

“I don’t know much about attacks. It happens all the time. Attack happened in Mumbai also. We could have then reacted and just sent our planes, but that is not the right approach. According to me, that’s not how you deal with the world,” Pitroda said, demanding proof of the IAF’s operation.

Also Read: PM Modi says Congress wants to give people's wealth to Muslims. Fact check on what Nyay Patra actually says…

“Eight people (26/11 terrorists) come and do something, you don’t jump on entire nation (Pakistan). Naive to assume that just because some people came here and attacked, every citizen of that nation is to be blamed. I don’t believe in that way,” he had said.

The remarks elicited a response from PM Modi, who accused Congress of indulging in vote bank politics. “But can this be above national interest?” the PM had asked, targeting Rahul Gandhi.

Temples won’t create jobs – comment on Ram Mandir

In June 2023, Pitroda again sparked a row when he said that temples were not going to solve India’s problems of unemployment, inflation, education, and health.

"No one talks about these things. But everyone talks about Ram, Hanuman, and Mandir. I have said that temples are not going to create jobs,” Pitroda said at an event in the US. Rahul Gandhi was also present on the occasion.

The remarks were criticised by the BJP, with its leaders calling Pitroda and Rahul Gandhi ‘Hinduphobic’. The Congress distanced itself from the statement, saying his comments did not reflect the party's stand.

Nehru, no Ambedkar on Constitution

In January 2024, the BJP called the Congress an ‘anti-Dalit’ party after Pitroda said that Jawaharlal Nehru contributed more to the drafting of the constitution than BR Ambedkar.

Also Read: Lok Sabha Elections: Targeting PM Modi, BJP would lead to retaliation, says Mayawati's nephew Akash Anand

Pitroda had shared an article by Sudheendra Kulkarni, a former close aide of BJP veteran LK Advani, asserting that India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, contributed more than BR Ambedkar in the framing of the Constitution.

Pitroda later deleted the post. Kulkarni is no longer with the BJP.

‘Selfish middle-class’ on NYAY scheme

Pitroda left the Congress party in a soup in April 2019 when he said that the middle class should not be selfish and should, instead, be prepared to shell out more taxes to fund the party’s proposed NYAY scheme that promised a guaranteed minimum income for every poor household.

“The middle class should not be selfish and have a big heart,” he said during a TV interview. As expected, Pitroda’s remarks set off a row with senior party leaders responding to clear the air.

Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram had said there would be no increase in the tax burden of the middle class, and Rahul Gandhi had also clarified that funds for the NYAY scheme would not come from people’s taxes.


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First Published:9 May 2024, 05:51 AM IST
HomePolitics‘Hua to hua’ to ‘Chinese, African’: 7 remarks by Gandhi’s aide Sam Pitroda that left Congress red-faced

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