Blending emotion with aggression in a speech that had her invoking a Roman philosopher, accusing rivals of political opportunism over a “child’s death” and reading from anti-India posters in JNU, Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani pulled out all the stops Wednesday in Lok Sabha. She tried to defend the government against an opposition onslaught and her own handling of the situation in campuses across the country.
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Referring to the attack on her following the death of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad University after her ministry wrote letters to the university authorities, Irani said “mujhe suli pe chadhaya jaa raha hai kyunki mere vibhaag ne patra likha (I am being hanged because my ministry wrote the letter)”.
She trained her guns on the Congress: “Rahul Gandhi made the most of the opportunity and visited the hostel twice, something which he had never done before. Have you ever seen him visiting the same place twice? Did he do the same when 600 students died in the Telangana movement? Rohith blamed no one, yet Rahul tried to use this child as a political tool. The child in his suicide note said that no one is responsible for my death, yet you seek to use this child for your own political ends.”
“People who espouse the cause of free speech and attack this government, who say we are anti-minority, anti-Dalit, anti-tribal and time and again, they’ve been requested to not make it ‘us against them’. I am not certifying your patriotism, but do not demean mine. I am not certifying your idea of India, but do not demean mine.”
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Irani rejected the allegation that Vemula was forced to commit suicide because he was persecuted by the university authorities and the central government since he was a Dalit. “My name is Smriti Irani. I challenge you to ask my caste.” She said she would speak her mind and not take the refuge in the fact that she is “married to a micro minority” community member.
She even quoted Cicero to say that “a traitor within the gates is worse than a murderer”.
Her speech drew praise from Prime Minister Narendra Modi who tweeted “satyamev jayate” along with the video of her speech. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who spoke after Irani, said any amount of praise for her would not be enough.
Under opposition fire for slapping sedition charges on JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar, Singh said the issue should be left to the courts to decide. “If police are right, the courts will justify that. If police are wrong, then the court can discharge them.” Describing JNU as a centre of excellence, he said the government never called it an “anti-national centre”.
Earlier, while taking on the opposition, Irani invoked her motherhood and called herself a victim of opposition politics. She alleged she was being targeted by the Congress for her electoral fight against Rahul Gandhi in Amethi in the last Lok Sabha election. The opposition was outraged when Irani picked on Ranjeet Ranjan for laughing while she was speaking. Her remarks that MPs including Ranjan had approached her for admissions in Kendriya Vidyalayas had opposition MP rushing to the well of the House, seeking an apology.
As the Congress, TMC, Left and NCP walked out, Irani said: “I will not seek forgiveness for doing my duty… you never wanted to listen to my reply.”
Speaker Sumitra Mahajan reminded her it was part of the minister’s duty and asked her not to be emotional. Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu came to her rescue, saying Irani had become emotional because questions were raised on her authority to write letters to the university.
Earlier, BJP MP Anurag Thakur also targeted Rahul Gandhi over the JNU issue. Questioning him for not visiting the families of those killed on the border, Thakur said: “Your leader goes and stands by those who support Afzal Guru… You did not go to the house of the martyred Inspector (who died in the Batla House encounter). Rahul Gandhi also could not go. But he went to JNU… Tell us, who are you standing for? Afzal Guru or those who protected Parliament House (in the 2001 attack)?”
Alleging that outfits named by the previous UPA government as “frontal organisations” of Maoists had support in JNU, Thakur said: “I want to ask Soniaji, why your young leader was standing with those who stand with Afzal Guru… for the Congress party, it is family first, party next and nation last. For us, it is nation first, party next and family last.”