BSP chief Mayawati and CPM leader Sitaram Yechury took on HRD Minister Smriti Irani in Rajya Sabha on Friday, expressing anger at the minister’s statements on Dalit student Rohith Vemula’s suicide and her reference to Mahishasur Martyrdom Day.
Mayawati went as far as to ask if Irani would keep her word on beheading herself since she had failed to include a Dalit member in the judicial commission probing Vemula’s death.
Earlier this week, in response to Mayawati’s persistent demand for an assurance on the inclusion of a Dalit member in the commission, Irani had said, “I am ready to reply to all questions.
First you allow the discussion. You are senior to me. You are a woman. If you are not satisfied with my reply, I am ready to behead myself and lay it at your feet.”
On Friday, Irani said that Ashok Kumar Roopanwal, who is heading the inquiry, was a judge of the Allahabad High Court when Mayawati was Uttar Pradesh chief minister, hence his ability to deliver justice should not be questioned.
This sparked a second face-off between the two as Mayawati accused Irani of misleading the House and added that section 3 of the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952, allows the government to include more than one member in the judicial commission. “The truth is that this commission does not have a Dalit member. This judge (Roopanwal) is a member of the upper caste,” Mayawati said.
“Our party is not at all satisfied with the answers of Smriti Irani over the death case of Rohith Vemula. She had said on February 24 that if her answers are not satisfactory then she would cut her head and lay it at the feet of the BSP supremo. I want to remind her, will she fulfil her promise now?” asked Mayawati. Irani stood up immediately and asked BSP workers to behead her.
Mayawati also said that Irani had on Wednesday apologised to her in the Parliament lobby for her aggression and sought forgiveness. Irani responded that the former CM had told her that heated arguments in Parliament must be ignored and that they should both “move on”.
Yechury, too, launched a fresh onslaught against the HRD Minister for reading out derogatory references to goddess Durga from a poster circulated by students on Mahishasur Martyrdom Day. He also slammed her for citing contents of Facebook posts to argue her case.
“Are you permitting any quotes from cyberspace as evidence? Are you permitting these untruths? Without these facts established, nothing should go on record,” Yechury told Rajya Sabha deputy chairman P J Kurien in a reference to Irani quoting from Vemula’s Facebook post criticising Left leaders a day earlier.
Referring to Irani’s criticism of celebration of Mahishasur Martyrdom Day, Yechury cited the example of Onam to argue for diversity of beliefs in India. “Mahishasur is the king of Asuras and Onam celebrates his resurrection. India comes with these traditions and that is our diversity. Who is a good Hindu? Will they give certificates and say I am a good Hindu? Why is this being brought here? To create mayhem in the country?”
Irani had on Thursday read out contents of a poster circulated by students which described goddess Durga as a “sex worker” who enticed Mahishasur into marriage. “Every year, thousands of Durga puja pandals are erected showing her in a bad light, in a sexual position,” the minister had said in a bid to argue against unfettered freedom of expression.
The Opposition, which had objected to Irani’s suggestion on Thursday evening as well, renewed their demand that the minister withdraw her remarks and apologise.
“The Constitution does not allow anything to be said in Parliament that amounts to blasphemy. Should a minister then say or read out something that is objectionable, and hurts the religious sentiments of the people?” Anand Sharma, deputy leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, said.
Irani tried to clarify that she was only reading from pamphlets circulated by certain students, but she was shouted down.
“Hundreds of pamphlets are circulated by all sorts of people against our Gods, against different religions. Does that give the minister the right to read them out on the floor of the House?” Sharma asked.
“There cannot be any derogatory remarks in the House against any God. It has to be condemned by all. We worship Maa Durga. No one can hurt religious sentiments,” Sukhendu Sekhar Roy of the TMC said.
Yechury also accused Irani of distorting facts on the JNU sedition incident and Vemula’s suicide. “The minister says that the proctorial inquiry committee had co-opted a Dalit member. Did she mention that the same member had given a dissent note and quit the inquiry committee? The JNU issue was resolved with its internal inquiry but this government re-opended the issue,” he said.
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