April 19, 2019 / 10:12 AM / 4 months ago

Congress spokeswoman Priyanka Chaturvedi quits in middle of Indian election, joins BJP ally

MUMBAI (Reuters) - A spokeswoman for India’s main opposition Congress party quit on Friday and joined a group allied with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party, complaining that misbehaviour towards her by male Congress members was ignored.

A supporter wearing an inflatable symbol of India's main opposition Congress party walks during a public meeting in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Amit Dave/Files

The resignation of Priyanka Chaturvedi, a regular on prime-time TV debates, is an embarrassing setback for Congress in the middle of a general election, and again raises the contentious issue of the treatment of women in India.

“A serious incident and misbehaviour against me by certain party members while I was on official duty for the party has been ignored under the guise of all hands needed for elections,” Chaturvedi wrote in the letter to Congress President Rahul Gandhi, and posted on Twitter.

Chaturvedi told a news conference she had joined Shiv Sena, a Hindu nationalist group allied with Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Her resignation is another problem for the former ruling Congress party, which is facing a confident BJP, buoyed in part by Modi’s tough stand against old rival Pakistan, despite concerns about farm incomes and a lack of jobs.

India’s staggered general election began on April 11 and will end on May 19. Votes will be counted on May 23.

A #MeToo movement in India gathered momentum last year with numerous complaints of sexual harassment and other sexual misconduct levelled against prominent journalists, actors, movie directors, comedians and others.

The Congress in its election manifesto has promised measures to improve the safety and security of women, provide more job opportunities for them and increase gender equality.

‘MATTER OF PAIN’

Chaturvedi said in her resignation letter her services were “not valued” in the party and she had “reached the end of the road”.

She said the male party members she accused of misbehaviour were reinstated this week after being suspended.

A senior Congress source, who declined to be identified, defended the party’s decision to lift the members’ suspension after “due procedure”.

Another top Congress official, Randeep Surjewala, asked by reporters about Chaturvedi’s departure, said he wished people who looked for career progression well.

“Every time a member of the Congress family, every single worker who leaves, it’s a matter of pain for us,” he said.

Neither Chaturvedi nor the party have given details about the behaviour of the men. However, Chaturvedi told Gandhi in her letter that party members were not behaving in the way he urged men to.

“What saddens me is that despite the safety, dignity, empowerment of women being promoted by the party and has been your call to action the same is not reflected in the action of some of the members of the party,” she wrote.

She denied newspaper reports, citing Congress sources, suggesting she was angry with the party after it did not let her stand in the election for a seat in Mumbai.

“That was never the reason,” she told her news conference, saying the point was that people who spoke about empowering women and enhancing their safety should keep their word.

Reporting by Abhirup Roy; Additional reporting by Nigam Prusty and Rajendra Jadhav; Edited by Martin Howell, Robert Birsel

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