In his first year as prime minister of India, Narendra Modi has done a pretty good job of defining his image as a sensible leader who’s in touch with young people, technology, and maybe even with fashion (remember all his outfit changes when Obama came to visit?)
But on Sunday he made a serious gaffe.
On a visit with Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina, Modi attempted to praise her for her effort to fight terrorism — “despite being a woman.”
The hashtag #DespiteBeingAWoman obviously blew up on Twitter.
Modi is an avid Twitter user himself. On the one year anniversary of his leadership, he used Twitter to direct message each one of his 12.5 million followers.
He has not tweeted any correction or clarification about the controversial comment.
A dark history
The Indian leader has had to overcome a much darker image that many in India associated with him before he was voted in — one of a pro-Hindu nationalist, stemming from the 2002 religious riots in his home state of Gujarat, where he was chief minister, and where many believed he played a role in the violence.
Between 900 and 2,000 people were killed, and some human rights organisations and opponents said he didn’t take sufficient action to stop the violence, while others said he actually condoned and inflamed it.
While Modi reportedly used anti-Muslim rhetoric in an ensuing state-level election, he steered clear of any religious comments in the national election.
Instead, his campaign was centered around improving the economy, and built off his successful pro-business policies in Gujarat.
Foreign policy did not play a central role in Modi’s 2014 campaign, but he has since made some unexpected strides on that front.
He’s already made 20 foreign visits in the past year, from Europe to Africa, North America, Latin America, and around Asia. He’s also received visits from leaders like US president Barack Obama, Russian president Vladimir Putin, and Chinese president Xi Jinping.
Bangladesh, a majority Muslim country, neighbours India. Despite some areas of contention, the two nations have shared relatively warm relations since Bangladesh’s independence in 1971.
Hopefully Sunday’s slip up doesn’t change any of that.