NEW DELHI: The BJP on Thursday attacked the Congress over its leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda riding a tractor being pulled its women legislators to protest the rise in fuel prices and asked if women in a political organisation be treated as "bonded labourers".
Union minister and BJP leader Smriti Irani said it was "absolutely shocking" to see the former Haryana chief minister sitting calmly on a tractor while having woman members of his party pull it physically.
In a separate statement, BJP Mahila Morcha (women wing) chief Vanathi Srinivasan said they are organising a nationwide agitation against the "mistreatment" of women by Congress leaders and sought Hooda's unconditional apology for his alleged misconduct.
Irani said here, "I understand he wants to protest. I understand he wants to make a political statement but should that be done at the cost of women? This is irrespective of our politics.
"Can women in political organisations, especially the scene we saw in this protest by the Congress, be treated as bonded labourers. It is shocking no male member of the Congress even intervened to stop that."
Hooda had earlier defended this, saying it was women who were feeling the pinch of the rising prices of cooking gas and other essentials.
Taking a swipe at Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Irani, who is the women and child development minister, said her silence also speaks volumes about how the women in her party are reduced to tasks that even men refuse to do.
Noting that Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar expressed his anguish at the protest on the floor of the Assembly, Irani said it was ironical that on the one hand Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for celebrating female potential and enterprise on International Women's Day and on the other, Hooda reduced their stature and compelled them to pull a tractor atop which he sat for a "political stunt".
He did this for a "family enterprise" called the Congress, she said, noting that the incident had happened on International Women's Day on March 8.
Echoing Khattar's view, she asked couldn't Hooda have extended the courtesy of allowing the women to ride the tractor, that too on International Women's Day.
Asked if she had any demand, Irani quipped, "Should not they (Congress) have been conscientious enough to act on their own."
Describing Hooda's conduct as "shocking and deeply distressing", Srinivasan said "such cruel, irresponsible behaviour does not befit someone who has held positions of great influence and power for considerable amount of time."
She said Modi has introduced and implemented several programmes in Haryana state in which woman empowerment has been given top priority.
Khattar has also done commendable work towards woman empowerment but, sadly, Hooda's behaviour negates the positive impact.
The Haryana chief minister had turned emotional while criticising the protest, saying he could not sleep all night due to the visuals.
"This treatment to women MLAs was worse than bonded labour, he had said in the state Assembly on Tuesday.
Htting back, Hooda had said it was women who were feeling the pinch of the rising prices of cooking gas and other essentials.
However, Khattar said if he had to protest, he should have pulled the tractor.
On this, Hooda said, "The government has turned a blind eye to the pain of women who are sitting with farmers protesting on borders against farm laws. Power connections were cut at the protest site, you cannot see their pain."