The suicide by a dalit student of Hyderabad University, on Tuesday snowballed into a major issue with BJP’s rivals wading into it and demanding the removal of Union Ministers Smriti Irani and Bandaru Dattatreya, accusing them of being responsible for the death.
As Congress mounted the demand for the sacking of the HRD and Labour Ministers, Rahul Gandhi led the multi-party charge attacking them and the Vice Chancellor Appa Rao saying “The VC and the Union Ministers in Delhi have not acted fairly. This youngster was put in so much pain that he had no option but to kill himself.”
Though he did not name Irani, who had just over the week attacked Rahul in his constituency Amethi of failing youths there, the reference was obvious to her against the backdrop of ministry’s action which is blamed for the suicide by Rohith Vemula, a research scholar, on Sunday night.
Protests escalated in Hyderabad and cities across the country including in Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Chennai. Student organisations including the pro-Left AISA and AAP-backed CYSS and Congress’ NSUI held protests in Jantar Mantar and the HRD ministry in the capital demanding the sacking of the ministers and strong action against the VC.
Various political parties and leaders have blamed Labour Minister Dattatreya’s letter of Aug 17 last year to Irani seeking action against the “anti-national activities” of a students union and the alleged assault of an ABVP leader and a series of five communications from the HRD Ministry between Sept 3 and Nov 19 demanding follow-up action for the suicide.
The HRD ministry, however, Tuesday rejected allegations that it had put any pressure on the University relating to either suspension of Rohith or keeping him out of the hostel.
The communications, it maintained, was not aimed at putting pressure but was in compliance with the standard protocol adopted in accordance with the Central Secretariat Manual of Procedure whenever a “VIP Reference” is received.
Ministry officials said the two-member committee of HRD officials have met people concerned in Hyderabad Tuesday and their fact-finding report is expected to be ready after their return tomorrow.
After the high-profile visit of Rahul to the campus, Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi also went there and asked why Prime Minister Narendra Modi was not saying sorry over the incident.
“It does not need even 140 characters,” he said in an apparent reference to the Prime Minister’s penchant for tweeting on issues. He alleged that there has been social discrimination that had led to the suicide.
Gandhi flew into Hyderabad from Delhi in the morning and drove straight from the airport to the University campus where he addressed the agitating students.
He alleged that the institution instead of operating fairly has used its power to “crush” the freedom of students to express.
“The Vice Chancellor and the Minister in Delhi have not acted fairly. What is the result. The result is that the youth, who came here to improve the country, to learn and to express himself was put in so much pain that he had no option but to kill himself.
“Certainly he has committed suicide but conditions for his suicide were created by the Vice Chancellor, the minister and the institution,” he told the students, one of whom said before his speech that they did not want any politicising of the issue.
He demanded the “strictest punishment” for Vice-Chancellor and the minister holding them “responsible” for the death of the research scholar.
After meeting the students, Gandhi upped the ante against Irani and Dattatreya and the Vice Chancellor, by observing in a tweet: The VC and Union Ministers in Delhi have not acted fairly. This youngster was put in so much pain that he had no option but to kill himself.”
Union Labour Minister Dattatreya and Hyderabad University Vice Chancellor Appa Rao and three others were Monday named in an FIR lodged with the Cyberabad police over the alleged suicide of the dalit student.
The Congress Vice President said there is “no question of the Vice Chancellor remaining” on merit and criticised him severely for not even meeting the mother of the deceased.
“There are certain people responsible for it. Vice Chancellor is among them. The minister is among them,” Gandhi said insisting that whoever is responsible for this outcome has to be punished in strictest terms.
In a series of other tweets, Gandhi said, “Any student can come to the University- whether he belongs to any caste or religion. He should feel that I can say what I want to say. The idea of a University is that young people can come and share their thoughts.”
“These students were protesting against the unjust expulsion and social boycott of Dalit students on campus. Met students of the Ambedkar Students Association, Hyderabad University,” he said in the other tweets.
Earlier, accompanied by senior Telangana Congress leaders, Gandhi paid tributes to Vemula by garlanding a memorial “stupa” put up in the university. He also spent some time with family members of Vemula and consoled them. More
Party general secretary P Muralidhar Rao, who hails from Telangana, accused Gandhi of “unprincipled” behaviour, saying that the same Congress which had “harassed” the dalit icon, B R Ambedkar “all his life” was now trying to project itself as a champion of the Dalit cause.
Suicide of Rohith Vemula has nothing to do with Dalit issues or rights just because he was a Dalit. It is merely politicising of the issue.
— P Muralidhar Rao (@PMuralidharRao) January 19, 2016
He alleged that Hyderabad student Rohith Vemula’s suicide has been made into a political issue by “Congress, a section of media and some groups with vested interests”.
In a series of tweets, he said, “Suicide of Rohith Vemula has nothing to do with dalit issues or rights just because he was a dalit. It is merely politicising of the issue.”
“Disciplinary action was taken against Rohith on the advice of the court and even a lenient stand was taken by University authorities by permitting him to enter the campus except the hostel,” he said.
“Rahul Gandhi’s hurried visit to Hyderabad is an unprincipled behaviour and it is unfortunate that a national political party stoops to such levels.
A two-member Trinamool Congress delegation led by party MP and national spokesperson Derek O’Brien will also visit Hyderabad to express solidarity with the agitating students.
“We have spoken to the students and they said it will be a nice gesture if you come and express solidarity with us”, O’Brien here said.
“I have listened to their account regarding the incident. We will reach Hyderabad this evening”, he said, adding another member of the delegation is party MP Pratima Mondol.
Senior Uttar Pradesh minister Azam Khan of the Samajwadi Party held the Central government responsible for the suicide.
— FAISAL FAREED (@postfaisal) January 19, 2016
“The student’s suicide note raises suspicion…the party heading the government at the Centre and its affiliated organisations are responsible for it…these parties are anti-Dalit and anti-minorities and do not want them (students) to study and come on par with others,” Khan said in a statement here.
Lending his voice to the criticism of the Centre, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal demanded that Modi sack Irani and Dattatreya and apologise to the nation over the suicide. He questioned the ministers’ “interference” in the internal affairs of the institution.
Terming it as a “murder” of democracy, social justice and equality, Kejriwal said the incident, which sparked massive protests across the country, has shaken the “collective conscience” of the entire nation.