Govt., Opposition square off in Lok Sabha over Rohith death

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi speaks to CPI leader D. Raja during a protest at Parliament House in New Delhi on Wednesday.   | Photo Credit: Manish Swarup

The Government and the Opposition aggressively engaged in a parliamentary face-off over the death of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula and sedition charges against students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), not in the Rajya Sabha as scheduled, but in the Lok Sabha, where the debate was brought forward by a day.

An emotionally charged Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Smriti Irani said she did take accusations of contributing to Vemula’s death “personally.”

While Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu preceded Ms. Irani, and Home Minister Rajnath Singh followed her, it was the HRD Minister’s emotional turn that stood out in the Treasury benches.

Mr. Rajnath Singh said he had nothing much to add to whatever had been said by the HRD Minister, except that “I do not say anything without first considering all aspects. So, what I said [about the students having jehadi support] had some evidence that I could and some that I cannot quote, having been bound to an oath of secrecy.”

According to Mr. Singh, no innocent would be harmed during the investigation of the JNU incident, and that lawyers who beat up journalists and JNU Students Union president Kanhaiya Kumar would be punished.

Ms. Irani accused the Opposition of using Rohith Vemula’s death to score political points and attacked Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao for having been lax in his response and neglecting the suicide case, his administration not even rushing a doctor to the side of the deceased student.

She accused Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi of sensing a political opportunity in the death of Rohith Vemula. “Have you seen Mr. Rahul Gandhi visit the same spot twice? Here, he sensed a political opportunity,” she said.

Prove ‘saffronisation’ of education, I will quit, says Smriti

Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani denied in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday any attempt at “saffronising education” with regard to the events in Jawaharlal Nehru University and offered to quit if it could be proved.

Ms. Irani elaborated on the events that led to February 9, when the function to mark the anniversary of the hanging of Parliament attack case convict Afzal Guru was held, even reading out a few of the slogans and the accounts of the university’s security staff about the incidents.

“Many people tell me — they are kids, spare them. But how does this depravity get seeded in the minds of our children? Today I am compelled to say this — are these just slogans? I want to quote a Roman philosopher — a nation can survive its fools and the ambitious but cannot survive traitors,” she said.

She situated her arguments squarely in the realm of “nationalism” and alleged “betrayal” by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi.

The speech was preceded by a strong showing by the Opposition benches, with the chief whip of the Congress in the Lok Sabha Jyotiraditya Scindia accusing Ms. Irani and Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya of bringing down the might of the Indian government on Vemula’s head just because “he opposed the ideology of the RSS and the BJP.”

“With this government, it is either my way or the highway; anyone opposed to them gets branded as anti-national,” Mr. Scindia said.

“A young student ends his life and senior Ministers in this government like Sushma Swarajji, Jual Oramji and Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thawarchand Gehlotji only say the boy was not a Dalit. Is that the response of the government to the death of a son of poor parents,” he asked.

“This government wants to muzzle the voice of JNU students. Why? Because they raised the issue of Dadri, they demonstrated in front of the Education Ministry over cuts in the allocation for the University Grants Commission, and they raised the death of Rohith Vemula,” Mr. Scindia said.

Tathagat Satpathy of the Biju Janata Dal said it was neither the anti-national sloganeering by JNU students nor the Afzal Guru issue that the BJP cared about. The government wanted to divert attention from its failures on the economic front, he added.

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Printable version | Mar 3, 2021 2:21:45 PM |

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