President Pranab Mukherjee's son Abhijit landed in a controversy on Thursday over his description of women protesters in Delhi against the gang-rape incident as 'highly dented and painted', sparking a massive outrage with his remark dubbed as "sexist".
"Those who are coming in the name of students in the rallies, sundori, sundori mahila (beautiful women), highly dented and painted," Abhijit Mukherjee, an MP from Jangipur seat which the President had vacated before his election, told a vernacular news channel.
"Giving interviews in TV and showing off their children. I wonder whether they are students at all," he said, adding, "what's basically happening in Delhi is something like pink revolution, which has very little connection with ground realities."
As he came under attack for his "insensitive" remarks with even his sister Sharmistha expressing "utter shock and anguish" and apologising on his behalf, Mukherjee tendered an "unconditional apology" and offered to resign his Lok Sabha seat, if asked to do so by party and people. There were demands from women activists for his resignation.
He withdrew his comments and said they were not meant to hurt "any particular section or any particular sentiment".
"I withdraw those words which have hurt the sentiments of others. My intention was not to hurt and I apologise unconditionally to all the persons and all the cross-section of people in the society who got hurt by my utterance."
Offering his "sincere apology" to the people who have been hurt by his statement, Mukherjee said, "Had I known that this would hurt so many people in so many ways, (I) may not have commented."
Mukherjee also apologised to his father and Sharmistha, saying their sentiments too have been hurt by his words. He said the President had also asked him what prompted him to make such a statement.
Social activist Subhasini Ali termed the remarks as "atrocious" and "insulting" to women while noted actor Sharmila Tagore called it "very sexist".
Communist Party of India-Marxist's Brinda Karat said the remark showed Abhijit's "sickening and perverted" mentality and asserted time has come for a code of conduct in the speech and behaviour of elected representatives. The Bharatiya Janata Party also condemned the remarks.
Congress spokesperson Sandeep Dikshit did not want to be drawn into a debate on the party MP's comment, saying these are all "individual remarks" and that the whole organization cannot be "painted" for remarks of a few individuals.
Mukherjee also said women protesters go to discotheques and then join demonstrations.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan also disapproved of the remarks. "We have to be extremely sensitive about what we say. All of us are deeply shocked and anguished," Chavan said reacting to a question about Mukherjee's remarks.
Stating that his father should not be "dragged" into any controversy over the episode, Mukherjee said, "I am an adult. I am not an under aged person. Why my father should be dragged in... I am responsible for my action."
"All stakeholders, including my father and sister, they also got embarrassed because of these utterances. Their sentiments has also been hurt. So apology to them also."
"As a father (President), he also asked me what prompted you to say that. You are in public life and definitely it will create controversy. You must apologise. I said I have already done. My intention was not to hurt anyone. Not to undermine the agitation," he said.
Asked to comment on women right activists demanding his resignation, Mukherjee said, "If they are from my constituency and it is the order of my party, definitely I will do that. 100 per cent... If people from Jangipur, who voted me. If they ask me. I will do that immediately. If the Congress party and the high command wants it, I will do that."
Sharmistha told reporters in Hyderabad she was surprised at the remark and demanded an apology from her brother.
"Absolutely, he needs to apologise. As a woman, as a sister, definitely on his behalf I render my apoligise to everybody, every sensitive citizen of this country," she said.
"Not only as a President's son, but as any sensitive man, he should not have made this kind of statement. Forget about being a political leader, it shows a certain degree of insensitivity... My family is not like that," she said.
On whether her father would be embarrassed with Abhijit's remarks, Sharmistha said, "I am sure he will be. I can say that he also shares my view.... One thing is for sure that he (Pranab) does not agree with his (Abhijit) views. I am sure. He(Abhijit) has made a statement and during our personal interactions, he expressed his anguish."
Jaya Jaitley said the women will not be "cowed down" by such comments and it will only add strength to the movement. She said the comments have revealed the true mindset of the people.
On whether he had any idea that his comment will lead to such an uproar, he said he had used "slangs" which are generally spoken without intending to hurt anyone.
"Never. When we speak generally, these slangs nobody minds. I had spoken in that spirit. Not to hurt anyone. Since it has been done, it can not be undone. That is why I officially withdraw and sincerely apologise to those people," he said.
Mukherjee also sought to explain the context of his remarks, which he made on a regional news channel in West Bengal.
"I was asked by the reporters that what is your reaction about two people who have gone from Kolkata to take part in this agitation (in Delhi). My comment was, where were these two persons, what did they do when this Park Street rape happened... They did not even utter a single word," he said.