Who is Sam Pitroda, controversial figure re-appointed as Indian Overseas Congress chairman?

Born in Odisha's Titlagarh to Gujarati parents, Pitroda began his professional life in the United States in the 1960s. He later became an advisor to then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and been a close associate of Rahul Gandhi.
Last Updated : 26 June 2024, 15:44 IST

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New Delhi: The reappointment of Sam Pitroda, a Gandhi family loyalist, within 50 days of his resignation as Indian Overseas Congress chairman showed how important this technocrat is for the Congress leadership.

Chicago-based Satyanarayan Gangaram Pitroda, popularly known as Sam Pitroda, is the brain behind India’s telecommunications revolution and had been working closely with Rajiv Gandhi when he was Prime Minister. He did not lose touch with the Gandhi family after Rajiv's assassination.

Born in Odisha's Titlagarh to Gujarati parents, Pitroda began his professional life in the United States in the 1960s. He later became an advisor to then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and been a close associate of Rahul Gandhi.

As Indian Overseas Congress head, Pitroda organised a series of foreign visits of Rahul.

However, his controversial remarks had landed the Congress in trouble, following which he had resigned.

The remark that led to his resignation in May was while he tried to explain India's diversity.

"We are a shining example of democracy in the world. We could hold a country together as diverse as India where people in the East look like Chinese, people in the West look like Arab, people in North look like maybe white and people in South look like African. It doesn't matter, we are all brothers and sisters. We all respect different languages, different religions, customs and food. That's the India that I believe in, where everybody has a place and everybody compromises a little bit," he had said.

His remarks favouring inheritance tax during the election season also created trouble for the party.

Referring to inheritance tax in the United States, he said these are the kind of issues people should debate, amid allegations from Modi and the BJP that the Congress was planning to redistribute wealth of people to Muslims.

“If one has USD 100 million worth of wealth (in US) and when he dies he can only transfer probably 45 per cent to his children, 55 per cent is grabbed by the government. That's an interesting law. It says you in your generation, made wealth and you are leaving now, you must leave your wealth for the public, not all of it, half of it, which to me sounds fair. In India, you don't have that . If somebody is worth 10 billion and he dies, his children get 10 billion and the public gets nothing,” he said.

“So these are the kind of issues people will have to debate and discuss. I don't know what the conclusion would be at the end of the day but when we talk about redistributing wealth, we are talking about new policies and new programs that are in the interest of the people and not in the interest of the super-rich only,” he added.

Prior to this, his comments during 2019 Lok Sabha polls had also created trouble.

Appearing to make light of the Pulwama terror strike and Balakot surgical strike, he said, “attacks happen all the time. Attacks happened in Mumbai and we could have reacted and sent our planes but that’s not the right approach according to me…That’s not how you deal with the world. Eight people come and do something and you don’t jump on the entire nation. I don’t believe that way.”

Then came his suggestion that the middle class should be ready to pay more taxes so that Congress could fund its ‘NYAY’ scheme. As Congress faced a backlash, Congress fielded former Finance Minister P Chidambaram to clarify that the party had no such plans.

His response to questions on anti-Sikh riots just before polls in Punjab also backfired. “What about 1984 (riots) now? Talk about what you did in the last five years. What happened in 1984 has happened. So what? You were voted to create jobs. You were voted to create 200 smart cities. You didn't even do that. You did nothing, so you keep talking about here and there.”

Then Congress president Rahul Gandhi was categorical when he said what Pitroda said was “absolutely wrong”. “I told him this over the phone, I told him what he said was wrong, he should be ashamed and apologise publicly,” Rahul said at a rally.

Last June, he created another controversy when he said, “no one talks about these things. But everyone talks about Ram, Hanuman, and Mandir. I have said that temples are not going to create jobs,” he said at an event in the US in Rahul's presence. Rahul bore the brunt as BJP attacked him calling him 'Hindu-phobic'.

At a time, the Congress was spearheading the ‘save BR Ambedkar’s Constitution’, he once again landed the Congress in an awkward position by endorsing an article by Sudhindra Kulkarni earlier this year, which argued that the major credit for the Constitution should go to Jawaharlal Nehru.

Published 26 June 2024, 15:44 IST

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