It was in August last year that Bandaru Dattatreya wrote a letter to human resources development minister Smriti Irani that University of Hyderabad has become a “den of casteist, extremist and anti-national politics”.
Six months later, the Union minister of state with independent charge has landed in, perhaps, the biggest crisis of his political career following the suicide of Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula, one of the five students suspended allegedly after his letter.
The police have booked him, the vice-chancellor of the university and two leaders of the right-wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) for abetment of suicide and also for violation of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes (prevention of atrocities) Act.
Dattatreya, 68, who represents the Secunderabad Lok Sabha constituency in Hyderabad, is the sole BJP MP and only representative in the Union cabinet from Telangana.
Popular as Datanna among his supporters, Dattatreya comes from a modest background and is known for his simplicity, soft-spoken and down-to-earth nature.
However, all those adjectives are unlikely to cut ice with opposition parties baying for his blood.
Nor will his defence that he had no knowledge of what action was taken against the students. “I have nothing to with this incident (suicide) or suspension of students,” he said as the controversy erupted.
The BJP too has defended Dattatreya with the party’s state spokesperson Krishna Sagar Rao saying the central minster was in no way responsible for the suicide.
“Dattatreya has not been named in the suicide note,” he said and party alleged that the ruling TRS was trying to play politics over the incident in view of the forthcoming elections to Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation.
The backward class leader holds the labour and employment portfolio in the Modi cabinet, inducted into the ministry after he was elected to the Lok Sabha for the fourth time after a gap of 10 years. He was earlier elected from the constituency in 1991, 1998 and 1999.
A veteran but low-profile BJP leader, he had earlier served as a minister of state in the Atal Behari Vajpayee cabinet between 1999 and 2004. He held portfolios of urban development, poverty alleviation and railways.
A science graduate, Dattatreya joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1965 and served as a pracharak from 1968 to 1989.
He was the state joint secretary of Loka Sangarsha Samiti (Jayaprakash Narayan movement) and was jailed during the Emergency. He joined the BJP in 1980 and held various positions before becoming president of the Andhra Pradesh unit of the party in 1997.