Hyderabad: Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide has led to a slugfest by political parties with Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi air-dashing to Hyderabad, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) protesting at Jantar Mantar in Delhi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) washing its hands of the episode.
Vemula was found hanging in the Hyderabad university hostel on Sunday, days after he and four other Dalit students were suspended by the university. Students have been protesting in Hyderabad since then, alleging that the five Dalit students were “socially boycotted.”
As Opposition fired salvos at Union ministers Smriti Irani and Bandaru Dattatreya over Vemula’s suicide, the BJP accused Gandhi of politicising the issue and refuted that the letters written by the ministers to the vice chancellor (VC) of the university played any part in abetting the suicide.
Gandhi targeted Irani and Dattatreya, saying that the ministers and the VC didn’t act fairly and “that forced the scholar to take the extreme step”. Gandhi, who flew into Hyderabad in the morning alleged that the institution, instead of operating fairly, has used its power to “crush” the students’ freedom of expression.
“Certainly, he has committed suicide, but conditions for his suicide were created by the VC, the minister and the institution,” he told students, one of whom said before his speech that they did not want any politicisation of the issue.
Gandhi demanded the “strictest punishment” for the VC and the minister.
After meeting the students, Gandhi upped the ante against Irani, who is also his political rival in Amethi, saying her actions put the student in so much in pain that he had no option but to kill himself.
The Congress vice president said there is “no question of the VC remaining” and criticised him severely for not even meeting the mother of the deceased. He also asked for a legislation to protect the interests of students.
“These students were protesting against the unjust expulsion and social boycott of Dalit students in the campus. Met students of the Ambedkar Students’ Association, Hyderabad University,” he said in a tweet.
BJP general secretary P Murlidhar Rao, while accusing Gandhi of politicising the issue, said ministers had forwarded complaints about students indulging in “anti-national” activities in the campus.
“The context of the clash between student groups was Rohith’s stand in support of terrorism, including that of against the hanging of Yakub Memon,” he said.
Quoting from Rohith’s suicide note, Rao said he was in conflict with himself. “Nowhere in the note has he made any reference to his friends or enemies as the reason for his decision to commit suicide… So connecting his suicide with incidents related to his ideological adversaries is baseless and a cruel political game is being played with his death by the Congress and some groups with vested interests,”he said.
However, the government came under attack from within. Sanjay Paswan, who had headed the BJP’s Scheduled Caste Morcha, tweeted: “The stakeholders of power politics must take serious note of the Rohith Vemula episode or be ready to face wrath, revenge, revolt, reactions.”
Asked if he felt it would have a political fallout on the party’s attempts to reach out to Dalits, he alleged that all parties were insensitive and demanded Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention and a CBI inquiry.
The current chief of the BJP’s Scheduled Caste Morcha, Dushyant Kumar Gautam, refuted that the suicide had “anything to do with BJP” and said a fact-finding delegation of a couple of MPs would be sent to Hyderabad.
What further irked the BJP was Gandhi’s Hyderabad visit. “Rahul Gandhi is a non-serious, part-time politician. He stays abroad most of the time and does a photo-op when he comes,”said BJP spokesperson Shrikant Sharma.