Sunanda Pushkar, the wife of Minister of State for Human Resources Development (HRD) Shashi Tharoor, has hit back at Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi for calling her Rs 50 crore girlfriend of the Congress leader. Speaking to CNN-IBN Deputy Editor Sagarika Ghose, Pushkar called the remarks of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader a below-the-belt attack, and asserted that she did not expect this from a Chief Minister.
Below is the full transcript of the interview:
Sagarika Ghose: Hello and welcome to Face The Nation. When Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi referred to Shashi Tharoor’s wife Mrs Sunanda Tharoor as Rs 50 crore girlfriend, this was regarded as a highly controversial statement. Many women felt that the remark was disparaging not only of Sunanda but of women in general. What does Sunanda make of Narendra Modi’ highly gender biased remark as many have called it. Thanks Sunanda for joining us. How did you feel when Modi made that statement and called you affectively a Rs 50 crore girlfriend?
Sunanda Pushkar: I was very disappointed, I did not expect Chief Minister of a state to speak like this.
Sagarika Ghose: Did you feel insulted as a woman?
Sunanda Pushkar: First of all I felt really bad that he stooped to such lows and I just felt that nobody should talk about any woman like that.
Sagarika Ghose: Do you think he should apologise?
Sunanda Pushkar: No, I don’t think. As I said earlier that I don’t think he would apologise. If he was the type to apologise he would apologise to his own people for the innocent killing of so many Gujaratis on his watch. So, no I don’t even expect an apology, I don’t think he is the type to apologise.
Sagarika Ghose: And did you feel that your dignity have been severely insulted and you had been hurt? Did you feel hurt by what he said?
Sunanda Pushkar: I did actually feel hurt but more than that I have friends who were feeling very offended for me. I was more upset that my son thought that somebody was putting a price tag on me. And a lot of people were hurt much more than I was. I am one of those people who have learnt to grow thick skin in this particular arena. And the reason I am talking today which I promised that I would never do any television interviews since 2010 and I haven’t done any in regard to these kind of statements, because you know people say stuff which you are not suppose to think about. But the reason I did today is because there are a lot of women across India and a lot of young men across India told me that I must speak something, I must say something how I feel. Here they are supporting me, they don’t know what my thoughts are and I thought why not, it’s only fair. This person has been by a lot people seen as some kind of an icon or whatever and he projects himself as a future leader, so I thought it would be nice to at least say to the youth and to the women that you know do you really think that a person who doesn’t respect women? Because, you see, as people tell me that he has a track record of disrespecting women. So I thought it would be nice to say something and here I am.
Sagarika Ghose: You know a number of women are infact very outraged, a number of women who don’t take interest in politics, they were not involved in what is going on politically, they are just very outraged that someone like this would say something like this in public about a woman. What kind of message would you like to send to those women who were very outraged?
Sunanda Pushkar: I think they should really.. It’s time that we should spoke out, it’s time that we should not let men in any field, in the corporate world, in politics, anywhere I don’t think that women should be targeted just because they have nothing better to do but to target women. Yeah, I think everybody should speak out. More recently I was in Trivandrum and there was not a bad mob, they were for the love and affection of Shashi, lot of people wrong-read and portrait it was a Congress worker but it wasn’t, it was just some young lad getting over enthusiastic. But again sadly why do men have to grope and molest women just because they have an opportunity, there is a lot of crowd. I mean why do you feel that you can take abilities from somebody’s body. We found out who the guy was and I did not get him arrested because of the simple reason, the family came and they were really apologetic, he apologised and I said you have to forgive someone who apologises. He is a 19-year-old with few of his chappies, he would have been thrown out of college, his entire life would have been messed up because he made a mistake at a young age. So I thought it’s best if he has apologised, if he has understood that he has done wrong then it’s best to trust the fact that he wouldn’t do it again.
Sagarika Ghose: This is when you slapped the…
Sunanda Pushkar: I didn’t slap him, again the media reported it wrong. What happened was because his hands were all over the place, I was hitting out at his arms. His face was a little far, probably I would have slapped him if his face was close enough. Which is why in the footage if you see in this interview you’re repeating it , you media guys love to show the wrong thing but it’s alright. In this case I don’t minds because the women of Trivandrum have supported me and said this happens to them all the time and I am happy that they are supposed to raise grin and bear it. And it‘s good that somebody actually stood up.
Sagarika Ghose: And your husband also stood up very strongly for you when Modi made that comment. Shashi Tharoor tweeted and said that it is a terrible thing to say and it is a distasteful thing to say. Did you feel quite sympathetic with your husband that in the front line so to speak on this kind of attack?
Sunanda Pushkar: I felt really bad for him, here he was coming back, feeling so happy and we really didn’t expect this at all. I certainly didn’t expect this from the Chief Minister of Gujarat. I don’t think even Shashi expected it at all. But he was very taken aback in the beginning. It took a little while for him to say something because a lot of people turned around and said. I think we were definitely planning to keep quiet and more than anybody else I was the one saying that I must keep quiet, forget about it. Never will grow up, thick skin. There were a lot of people who turned around and said that there are certain issues which you keep quiet but there are certain issues which are really below the belt attack, if you want to attack people attack directly. Don’t go through families, don’t be cheap, don’t stoop to such lows. It doesn’t befit the human beings. So this is why I of course naturally felt bad for him. He felt really bad for me because I have been completely misunderstood from day one.
Sagarika Ghose: Do you feel that you have been misunderstood since day one?
Sunanda Pushkar: Absolutely. Of course I have.
Sagarika Ghose: Why is that? Why do you feel that you have been misunderstood?
Sunanda Pushkar: I wouldn’t be able to answer that because that would be the people themselves who are trying to attack me at every drop-of-a-hat situation, they would know. I wouldn’t be able to tell. For me I have come back after such a long time, I have been out, I went to Canada because my son has a speech therapy problem and after his father died he had a lot of problems with him. And I had no choice but to go to Canada because they have the best possible medical attention for young children.. He is four-years-old and I struggled with the medical issues but I needed him to get the best possible and I have been in Canada for a long time then in the UAE, and then I came back. I have been one of the biggest patriots because my father is in the Army, my beother is in the Army and I am truly, truly an Indian. Bhagat Singh is my role model in life and I still cry at pics of Hindustan and our freedom struggle. So yeah, I was sad that I was not understood.
Sagarika Ghose: Do you think because you’re an outsider, because you look glamorous, you live life on your own terms and you have the courage to live life on your own terms that someone like you in the political setup is always misunderstood?
Sunanda Pushkar: I think it is not just the political setup, if you look at any other setup, if a girl has come back and be in any industry, be it in advertising, perhaps not much in advertisement, be in corporate world, a woman who is probably independent and is fairly decent looking does get a lot of flak in India. Sometimes you find this in other countries as well. But really it depends on how you conduct yourself. I am sad that this happened to me in India because I am such a hardcore Indian, a Bhartiya nari because people come to my house and eaten food that I have personally cook everyday and they are completely stunned. And I say I love cooking. I see the shock that how can some one be like this and cook and be in the kitchen and be a proper wife. I say why should I? I love my husband opening car doors for me, opening door when I am leaving the house. If I am expecting my husband to be gentleman and I think I also do my bit as a good wife. A lot of people come to me say that Shashi Tharoor is a great husband and I say perhaps I am good wife to get a great husband. You see it’s a reaction thing - you can’t be a good husband if your wife is constantly not a great person. I think it works both ways. Unfortunately in our society today no one sees that the women can also be good. If a man is good to her, if she has a great husband, a great friend then there must be something that must be nice, that must be good, that must be kind.
Sagarika Ghose: But do you feel that the stereotypes in India still shock you? The kind of stereotypes that people have about women, about the married woman, about the working woman, about the modern woman, that these kind of stereotypes that you have to look a certain way in order to be a virtuous ‘Bhatiya nari’, you look a certain way you are not a Bhartiya nari. Do these stereotypes bother you, shock you? Because you are coming from outside you probably felt that India has moved on and it hasn’t.
Sunanda Pushkar: No that is true that India hasn’t moved on so I think people should stop and think on this particular thing. No, it doesn’t shocks me, it saddens me and actually deeply saddens me to know that our women don’t get the rightful place of respect. I think in our ancient time women were much more respected than today and I wish they learn from that. I remember we were airing this program and husband got a lot of negative tweets from women saying that why is she talking, she should keep quiet.
Sagarika Ghose: Do you feel it is envy or is it jealousy?
Sunanda Pushkar: I wouldn’t be able to tell that they would know. I can’t turn around and understand why somebody.. I can’t even empathise with people like this because I can’t even put myself in those kind of shoes. You know if a woman said something, looked after herself and defended herself I wouldn’t turn around and say that you should have let your husband do it and you don’t need to take care of yourself. And I was not even planning the same thing unless there was request of a lot of women in this case. I am a little confused in the women that I am meeting in India. There are women who are completely for this and encouraged me that you must do this, you did not say something earlier so say something now.
Sagarika Ghose: And there are a lot of women attacking you.
Sunanda Pushkar: Exactly so I am not sure what is the mind set of India. I have come back after 1989 so for me perhaps I need to learn more about my country, I need to learn more about the women of my country.
Sagarika Ghose: Is it difficult being a politician’s wife? Being the kind of person you are, to fit in the political scene here.
Sunanda Pushkar: No, I don’t find it difficult to fit in at all. I have met some lovely people, I have some great friends in the political world here from both parties. I have good friends from BJP, I will not name them but they have shown tremendous support to me but I do feel sad that people think there should be a stereotype, a politician’s wife is supposed to talk perhaps, not supposed to be frank and be democratic. She must and only must say what her husband wants her to say.
Sagarika Ghose: And you’re not going to that woman right, you are going to be youself?
Sunanda Pushkar: I am going to be myself and frankly I have a husband who would not expect me to be democratic. He himself is a very democratic person. The whole basis of marriage would fail. People are in marriage because they understand and respect each other. It shouldn’t be one way, it is not going to last if it is a one-way street. And there is two points like people say does you husband encourages you or not. That’s not the point, we are two individuals who got together and you know are living a life. So…
Sagarika Ghose: And you see yourself very much as a partner?
Sunanda Pushkar: Absolutely. We are both partners in each other’s lives. You know if I am working on a business deal, as I have started working again, I am in real estate unlike being a beautician, I don’t think there is anything wrong being a beautician.
Sagarika Ghose: People thought you were a beautician but you are working in real estate.
Sunanda Pushkar: I am working in real estate, I have started working again. And every time I do something I consult Shashi and tell him that this is what I am doing. In that respect I have to follow certain norms because now he is a political figure and he is out there in public space and has chosen this life. And I love him. And I have to be particular about certain conditions, certain ways of being married. And I am sure if you’re married to a public figure as well so you have to behave in a certain way.
Sagarika Ghose: And we are getting to point to not to.
Sunanda Pushkar: Such a pleasure..
Sagarika Ghose: But if there is message that you would like to give to Narendra Modi, what would you say? Would you say that I am here, I am going to live my life, and this is the modern woman to you, this is what the Bhartiya nari looks like, get used to it.
Sunanda Pushkar: Yeah, that’s true, that’s definitely the modern Bhartiya nari that looks like me and I have met scores of them. Why don’t you take on people that you should be taking on to win an election? I would definitely tell him to please respect women because I have noticed that he has taken potshots at women in the past as well and he seems to not understand respect for a woman. It is strange because isn’t the BJP leader itself a woman?
Sagarika Ghose: Of course the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha is a woman.
Sunanda Pushkar: Exactly. And I know a lot of young BJP women who are bright, smart. So for me it is not a party issue, it is about the women at the moment. So I would appeal to all these women in the BJP that get together with Mr Modi and say why are you doing this? If you want to attack a corruption charge then turnaround and I have my account all open I will show you all. I would like to know where he has got this imaginary figure of Rs 50 crore. So go ahead let’s see it. Don’t put a price tag on women. We are not a commodity, we are humans. I don’t think he would like it if somebody put a price tag on him. I am sure he doesn’t like hear all the time about the Gujarat killings as well. I am sure if he is decent, if he is a good human being, as he portraits himself to be among the Gujaratis, I believe that’s what he does. So yeah if he is a good human being I would like him to go home tonight and take a deep look at himself and everything that he has done in the past and wonder that am I a decent human being, should I be treating women like this? I think he has the decency and as I said I don’t expect him to apologise and apparently he hasn’t apologised. That’s alright but I would like to appeal to him to not go on like this about any woman.
Sagarika Ghose: Sunanda Pushkar thanks indeed for joining us.