At a time when the Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry is in the eye of a political storm over the suicide of a Dalit research scholar at Hyderabad Central University, Ministers of State Ram Shankar Katheria and Upendra Kushwaha are, curiously, conspicuous by their absence.
Opposition parties have accused the HRD ministry of influencing the university authorities into imposing a six-month suspension on five of its research scholars, including Rohith Vemula, who committed suicide on Sunday. This is the first big controversy to hit the ministry this year. But even as HRD Minister Smriti Irani, flanked by Union ministers Thaawar Chand Gehlot and Nirmala Sitharaman, held a press conference on Wednesday to refute these allegations, Katheria and Kushwaha were nowhere in sight.
Katheria, a Dalit leader from Uttar Pradesh, is in charge of higher education in the HRD ministry. He holds a PhD from Kanpur University. Kushwaha, an OBC leader from Bihar, has been assigned school education.
Sources tell The Indian Express that while Katheria hasn’t been to his office this week, Kushwaha was there on Monday when students protested against Vemula’s death outside the HRD ministry.
Katheria, a Dalit MP, hasn’t made any statement on the suicide or on the allegations levelled against the government by the Opposition. But he commented on the Centre’s stand on the minority status of Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University this week.
“We want students of all religions and castes to get equal opportunities at the two varsities. The matter (of the minority institution status) is sub judice and we will press our case that they aren’t minority institution,” he had told reporters in Kanpur on Tuesday.
Kushwaha, however, had given a brief statement Tuesday defending the HRD Ministry. “Whatever action the ministry has to take as per the facts that come out after the committee examines the issue. The issue seems to be administrative in nature and one that concerns the institution. Why should the HRD ministry be targeted for this?” he was quoted as saying.
The MoSes did not respond to the calls and SMSes for comment. The two were unavailable in their respective offices in Shastri Bhawan for a reaction on Thursday.
Their staff told The Indian Express that Katheria and Kushwaha have been busy travelling as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assignment for all Union ministers to spend at least 30 hours in two parliamentary constituencies other than the one they represent.
Katheria was in Delhi on Monday, in Kanpur on Tuesday, Agra on Wednesday and will remain in Ajmer till Saturday. Kushwaha was in Delhi on Monday and Tuesday and in Bihar on Wednesday.