Comments about the Bangladeshi Prime Minister made by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi ignited a firestorm on Twitter this Sunday. “I am happy that the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, despite being a woman, is openly saying that she has zero tolerance for terrorism. I would like to congratulate Sheikh Hasina for her courage to deal with terrorism with zero tolerance,” Modi said at Dhaka University.
Now, #DespiteBeingAWoman is trending on Twitter, and most tweets are highly critical of the Prime Minister’s remarks.
“He is a gaffe machine that just keeps giving,” one user wrote.
“You have to be an imbecile to ignore the never ending list of high achieving women in the world,” another said.
“#DespiteBeingAWoman is an insult of the worst kind! It makes women sound inferior to men and belittles all their hardwork and achievement!” an Indian fashion blogger tweeted.
India’s opposition party, the Indian National Congress, has come out swinging at this new gaffe, calling the prime minister’s comments “derogatory,” “patronizing,” and “offensive.”
Members of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the governing political party which Modi leads, have made somewhat sexist remarks in the past. One BJP official caught flak earlier this week for calling mothers “lazy,” a statement the opposition party criticized as “disrespectful.”
Modi, however, has carefully constructed a pro-woman public persona. He has been a powerful opponent of the rising tide of sexual assault in India and boldly stood up against the too-common practice of female sex-selective abortions in India, calling it a “sign of mental illness.”
Modi supporters hit back at the critical hashtag with their own, #ModiEmpowersWomen, praising steps Modi has taken to smash glass ceilings for women in India.
BJP leaders have called that statement a “compliment,” saying that those up in arms about it are angry over a manufactured controversy.
On the campaign trail in 2013, Modi earned a reputation for being gaffe-prone, often misspeaking at rallies and during interviews.
However, Modi has been wildly popular with Indians and even the rest of the world. In 2014, he won the Time Reader’s Poll for “Person of the Year,” beating out the Ferguson protestors, nurses treating Ebola, and Hong Kong protest leader Joshua Wong.
He also came in first in a poll taken in April to find out who Indians consider to be their best prime minister.