Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha on Thursday were adjourned as the Opposition pressed for a discussion on inflation and the treasury benches demanded an apology from Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury for referring to President Droupadi Murmu as “rashtrapatni”, PTI reported.

Chowdhury made the remark while protesting against the questioning of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi by the Enforcement Directorate, the Hindustan Times reported. Gandhi is being investigated in a money-laundering case related to the National Herald newspaper.

On being asked about Congress’s plan to march to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Chowdhury said: “Yes, we will go to the Rashtrapati. India’s rashtrapati, no no rashtrapatni, is for all.”

Bharatiya Janata Party leaders described Chowdhury’s comments as misogynist and demeaning to the Adivasi community.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that Chowdhury’s remarks were a deliberate sexist insult, ANI reported. “Sonia Gandhi should apologise to the president of India and the country,” she said.

Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani said that Congress members demean women in constitutional posts despite being led by one.

“You stand guilty of insulting the supreme commander of armed forces, you stand guilty of humiliating a tribal leader…,” Irani said. “The Congress party cannot stand the honour given to a tribal, it is not able to digest a poor tribal woman becoming the president of India.”

Meanwhile, Chowdhury said that he mistakenly referred to Murmu as “rashtrapatni”, ANI reported.

“I said it and realised I uttered a wrong word,” he said. “I even looked for mediapersons who I had said this to, to request them to not focus on it. However, I couldn’t find them. Some ruling party members are deliberately trying to make a mountain out of a molehill. It is very unfortunate.”

He has requested the Lok Sabha Speaker to allow him to speak on the floor of the House on the allegations against him, ANI reported.

Although Chowdhury said that there is no question of apologising, Gandhi claimed that he has already done it.

Outside Parliament, Chowdhury claimed that he does not understand Hindi as he is a Bengali that led to the mistake. The Congress leader refused to apologise to the BJP, calling them hypocrites, but said he would do so before the president.

He added that he has sought time from Murmu to offer her apology.

Row over Sonia Gandhi

Meanwhile, a row erupted in the Lok Sabha after Gandhi approached BJP MP Rama Devi at the treasury benches and asked her why her name was being dragged into the matter related to Chowdhury, reported The Indian Express.

She spoke to Devi after women MPs shouted slogans asking Gandhi to apologise.

Irani then stepped in and was seen pointing at Gandhi, reported PTI. While the Congress chief first ignored her at first, she also pointed finger at the minister and speaking angrily.

As BJP leaders surrounded Gandhi and Devi, Nationalist Congress Party MP Supriya Sule and Trinamool Congress member Aparupa Poddar escorted the Congress president away from the treasury benches.

Later, Sitharaman accused Gandhi of speaking in a threatening tone with BJP members. The minister claimed that Gandhi told BJP members not to talk to her when they sought to know what was being discussed.

“Instead of tendering an apology, she is misleading by claiming that Adhir Chowdhury has already apologised,” Sitharaman said. “Instead of an apology, she is resorting to threats.”

Former Union minister Milind Deora defended Gandhi, saying he has never heard her speak in a rude and impolite manner even when she is provoked.

“This is not the first time that she has been targeted personally and of late, unjustly, both inside and outside Parliament,” Deora tweeted. “She has and will always endure.”

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh called Irani’s behaviour outrageous.

“But will the Speaker condemn it?” he asked. ‘Are rules only for the Opposition?”

Demand for discussion on inflation continues

On Thursday, Rajya Sabha Chairperson M Venkaiah Naidu noted the names of the Opposition members who brought placards to the House, PTI reported. According to rules, any MP named by the chairperson has to quit the proceedings for the rest of the day.

“People who are carrying placards, they are named and they have leave the house otherwise action will be taken,” he added.

Subsequently Aam Aadmi Party MPs Sushil Kumar Gupta and Sanjeev Kumar Pathak and independent legislator Ajit Kumar Bhuyan were suspended from the House.

The Opposition has been staging protests since the Monsoon Session started on July 18, demanding discussion on inflation and tax increases on several goods and services.

Including the three suspended on Thursday, 27 Opposition MPs have been temporarily removed from Parliament proceedings for carrying placards and disrupting House proceedings so far.

On Monday, four Congress Lok Sabha MPs were suspended for the entire Monsoon Session for carrying placards while protesting inside the House. A day later, 19 Opposition MPs were suspended from the Rajya Sabha for the rest of the week for repeatedly disrupting the House proceedings.

On Wednesday, Aam Aadmi Party leader Sanjay Singh was suspended from the Rajya Sabha for the rest of the week.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi on Thursday alleged that the Opposition is running away from discussions, ANI reported.

“Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has come back now and we are ready to have discussions in Parliament,” he said. “Their intention is to create disturbances and disruptions in the house.”

Sitharaman was away from proceedings till Thursday as she was infected with Covid-19. Joshi on Wednesday had said that the discussions on inflation will be taken up once she returns.