Tripura chief minister Biplab Kumar Deb on Friday regretted his remarks questioning the crowning of Diana Hayden as "Miss World" in 1997 and alleging that international beauty contests were a farce.
"I was talking about how the handlooms of the state could be marketed well. If anybody is hurt or feeling defamed, I regret for this... I respect all women as my mother," he told reporters.
Deb, who had kicked up a storm by his "Internet in the Mahabharata era" remark, landed himself in a fresh controversy when he questioned the rationale behind Hayden's win 21 years ago.
He had said he failed to understand the "process of judgement" of the crowning of the Miss World contest in 1997, in which Hayden won the award.
Deb, however, was all praise for Aishwarya Rai, who won the Miss World crown in 1994, saying she "represents the Indian women in the true sense".
His remarks drew criticism from various quarters, including beauty pageant contestants, social workers and his political opponents.
Panchali Bhattacharjee, social worker and wife of former Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar, said Deb's comments were "unexpected".
"Beauty pageant winners work very hard. It is not right to demean them in any way. Besides, we do not see women in any stereotypical manner. They should have the freedom to express themselves as Laxmi, Saraswati or otherwise," she added.
Femina Miss India contestant from Tripura Mamita Debbarma said, "It is a shame that our chief minister is making such comments."
Asserting that beauty pageant contestants had to work very hard to win a crown, she said, "The governments of other states felicitate and promote those who win these accolades. This comment is very unfortunate."
State Congress vice president and social worker Basana Debnath said, "Diana Hayden is an Indian woman and I think our chief minister's comment has no value. It is uncalled for and does not suit a politician.
"In our country, a three-year girl is raped, but there is hardly any voice against it. I ask, why would people like Asaram and Ram Rahim not be hanged? Nobody is vocal about this. I want a comment from our chief minister."
Fulan Bhattacharya, social worker and Mayor in Council of the Agartala Municipal Corporation (AMC), run by the CPI(M), was also critical of Deb's comments.
"This is none of his business. I am completely against stereotyping Indian beauty as goddess Laxmi and Saraswati. This is an old and retrogressive thought process, like that of a fundamentalist. The rest of the country is laughing at our chief minister's comment and we are also ashamed," she said.
State Congress vice-president Tapas Dey said, "His (Deb's) comments are divisive. He tried to differentiate between Aishwarya Rai and Diana Hayden with a clear motive, but both of them were judged by those who, according to Deb, are international mafia."
Speaking at a design workshop yesterday, Deb had further alleged that beauty pageant organisers were the international marketing mafia, who spotted a huge market in India.
His comments came days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi cautioned the BJP leaders to steer clear of controversies and not offer "masala" to the media by making irresponsible statements.
Earlier this month, Deb, an arts graduate, had claimed that Internet and satellite communication existed in the days of Mahabharata, which had drawn criticism from Twitterati, intellectuals and his political adversaries.