New Delhi/Patna: Union minister Giriraj Singh's racist remarks suggesting Sonia Gandhi was made Congress president for being a "white-skinned" person caused a national outrage on Wednesday with the Congress demanding his dismissal and an apology from the prime minister.
The remarks evoked nationwide condemnation with the Nigerian government slated to take up the issue with India's external affairs ministry.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) distanced itself from the union minister's remarks terming them "derogatory" and "inappropriate".
Giriraj Singh, who is the minister of state for micro, small and medium enterprises, also stoked controversies in the past, leaving his party embarrassed.
At an event in Bihar on Tuesday, Giriraj Singh said that he wondered if former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had married a woman who was not white-skinned, would the Congress have accepted her as its president.
"If Rajiv Gandhi had married a Nigerian and if she wasn't white-skinned, would the Congress accept her (Sonia Gandhi) as a leader,", Giriraj Singh said.
After his remarks caused outrage, Giriraj Singh regretted his remarks while terming the conversation off-the-record.
"During off-the-record conversation, there is talk of different kinds. How it was presented ... If Sonia-ji or Rahul-ji have been hurt by my remarks, I express regret," Singh said.
Congress leaders, however, sought Giriraj Singh's removal from the government.
"It reflects a degenerated mindset... How dare he say who is our president," Congress general secretary Ambika Sonia said, adding that he expresed regret when things started "getting hot for him".
"This man must be made to quit the government. People must know they have to pay for such mindset," Soni told a news channel.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, in a statement, condemned "the intemperate and distasteful remarks", saying they border "on insanity".
"It appears that continuous quest to appease Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made him lose his balance. Such remarks are reflective of lack of moral fibre in BJP and its cadre," he said.
Surjewala said that in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections, Giriraj Singh had said everybody opposing Narendra Modi should leave India and go to Pakistan.
"For conduct of this nature, he was rewarded by being appointed as a minister in the union cabinet... the prime minister must dismiss such a minister and apologise to the nation."
Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad said Giriraj Singh had exposed the true colour of his training in the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Brinda Karat termed the remarks as "disgusting and sickening".
Nigeria's top diplomat O.B. Okongor termed Singh's remarks as "unfortunate" and demanded an apology.
"It is unfortunate that the comment is coming from a minister who also doubles as representative of India."
Okongor said the minister should withdraw his remarks and the high commission will make a complaint with India's external affairs ministry.
Giriraj Singh had Tuesday also made remarks about Rahul Gandhi's "leave of absence" and likened it to the "missing Malaysian airliner".
Distancing the party from Giriraj Singh's remarks, BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli said these were remarks of an individual and "by no standard reflected thinking of BJP or the government".
"The comment is inappropriate, derogatory. He has expressed regret," Kohli said.
Kohli said that the BJP and government had consistently put out their thinking about issues concerning women.
Giriraj Singh's remarks came a day before the start of the national executive meeting of the BJP in Bengaluru.