The Lok Sabha on Thursday witnessed acrimonious scenes as Bharatiya Janata Party MPs objected to Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury’s remarks referring to President Droupadi Murmu as “rashtrapatni”.

Union minister Smriti Irani led BJP MPs in seeking an apology from Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. Irani claimed that the Congress had made Murmu a target for insults ever since she was named as the National Democratic Alliance’s presidential candidate.

Some members of the BJP also started shouting, “Sonia Gandhi maafi mango [Sonia Gandhi apologise].”

Amid the BJP’s sloganeering, Gandhi approached BJP MP and a presiding officer for the Lok Sabha Rama Devi, according to The Indian Express. The Congress chief asked Devi why her name was being dragged into the matter and said that Chowdhury’s reference was a slip of tongue.

At that time, Irani stepped in and was seen pointing at Gandhi, reported PTI. While the Congress chief first ignored her, she also pointed a finger at the minister and spoke angrily. Subsequently, Nationalist Congress Party MP Supriya Sule and Trinamool Congress legislator Aparupa Poddar escorted Gandhi away from the treasury benches.

Unidentified sources told NDTV that the Congress chief told Irani not to talk to her, which led to an angry reaction from the minister. “How dare you, don’t behave like this, this is not your party office,” Irani said to Gandhi.

The Congress chief reportedly told the minister that she was not speaking to her.

“Some of our members in Lok Sabha felt very threatened when Sonia Gandhi ji herself came up to one of our very senior members, Rama Devi ji, to find out what was happening,” Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told reporters later. “And our member approached there, she said, ‘you don’t talk to me’. As if putting a member of Parliament down in the House.”

Sonia Gandhi was heckled, says Opposition

The Congress, however, alleged that Irani’s “unparliamentary behaviour” had tarnished the dignity of Parliament. “Such uncultured and undignified behaviour taints our Parliament,” it said.

Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra alleged that BJP MPs encircled and heckled Gandhi “pack-wolf style” when all she did was speak to another MP. “Disgusted to read BJP lies and false version in press,” she said.

Moitra questioned whether all rules in the Lok Sabha were reserved for the Opposition. “Today as soon as LS started, before Hon’ble Speaker could even say “baithiye” [sit] mic was hijacked by BJP for 10 minute tirade,” she said.

Congress MP Geeta Koda said that Gandhi could have been injured during the confrontation, and demanded an apology from Irani and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“The way those BJP MPs started heckling Sonia Gandhi...They said – Sonia Gandhi has spoken enough, now we will speak,” Koda said, according to NDTV. “This is how they behaved. Sonia Gandhi could have been injured. We somehow brought her out.”

Chowdhury’s remarks

Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury had referred to Murmu as “rashtrapatni” while protesting against the questioning of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi by the Enforcement Directorate.

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.”

Outside Parliament, Chowdhury claimed that he does not understand Hindi as he is a Bengali. 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.

However, BJP leaders described Chowdhury’s comments as misogynist and demeaning to the Adivasi community.