Racist remarks: Sam Pitroda resigns as chairman of Indian Overseas Congress

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Sam Pitroda

Sam Pitroda (File photo)

New Delhi: Congress leader Sam Pitroda on Wednesday resigned as the chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress after his controversial remarks spurred the BJP to label the party "racist".

Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said on X that party chief Mallikarjun Kharge has accepted Pitroda's decision.

"Mr Sam Pitroda has decided to step down as Chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress of his own accord. The Congress President has accepted his decision," Ramesh said in his post.

Pitroda, who held the post of chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress, stoked a major controversy with his remarks during a podcast where he cited ethnic and racial identities like Chinese, Africans, Arabs and Whites to describe the physical appearance of Indians from different parts of the country.

The veteran leader was an advisor to former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and has been closely associated with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, accompanying him during his foreign visits.

As the BJP made Pitroda's remarks a poll issue, the Congress acted swiftly and distanced itself from his words, calling them "most unfortunate and unacceptable".

With campaigning in full swing ahead of the fourth phase of polls, Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the BJP's all-out attack on the Congress on Pitroda's analogy and slammed his comments as "racist". He asserted that people will not tolerate the attempt to insult them on the basis of their skin colour.

At his rallies in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, Modi said he is livid with the racial profiling of Indians by the US-based "philosopher and uncle of 'Shehzada'", and linked the Congress's opposition to Droupadi Murmu's presidential bid to its mindset, which saw her as an "African" because of her dark skin.

In the podcast, Pitroda said, "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 as diverse as India together. Where people in the east look like the Chinese, people in the west look like the Arabs, people in the north look like, maybe, white and people in the south look like Africans." "It does not matter. All of us are brothers and sisters. We respect different languages, different religions, different customs, different food," he said.

Earlier during the campaign, his reference to inheritance tax in the United States while discussing the Congress's Lok Sabha poll manifesto gave the ruling BJP a potent handle to accuse the opposition party of eying citizens' assets as part of its "redistribution of wealth" policy.

As the row erupted on Wednesday, Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said on X: "The analogies drawn by Mr Sam Pitroda in a podcast to illustrate India's diversity are most unfortunate and unacceptable. The Indian National Congress completely dissociates itself from these analogies." Ramesh later announced Pitroda's decision to resign and that the Congress president has accepted it.

The BJP dismissed the Congress's disassociation with the controversial comments as it noted at a press conference that Pitroda has a history of making "insulting and demeaning" comments, including on terrorism and the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

His "hua to hua" (so what) reaction to a question on the 1984 communal violence and "it happens all the time" reference to the Pulwama terror attack, both in 2019 as the country was gearing up for the general election, had also triggered massive rows.