Lok Sabha advanced the discussion on the raging Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) row from Thursday to Wednesday, with Speaker Sumitra Mahajan deciding so amid a push by Congress and the willingness by the government.
BJP parliamentarian Anurag Thakur led a fierce government pushback on Wednesday against Opposition allegations of muzzling dissent and being anti-Dalit, saying the Congress needed to tell the nation if it was backing terrorists.
Thakur attacked Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi for supporting protests against sedition charges on Jawaharlal Nehru University students, and said the opposition party’s slogan was “Family first, Party second...Nation last.
“Are you with Afzal Guru, with the people who attacked Parliament or with democracy,” he asked.
The Hamirpur MP’s comments came after a heated day in Parliament, where several opposition leaders criticised the government over its handling of the JNU controversy, where sedition charges were levelled against students for allegedly shouting “anti-national” slogans, and the suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad.
“Without thinking, Rahul Gandhi is backing anti-national students. They can see India chopped into pieces but we can’t,” said Thakur.
“Nobody can brand an entire university or all students anti-national. Some fellows inspired by Maoist ideology are trying to misguide them,” Union minister Venkaiah Naidu said later. “In Hyderabad University, incident involving Rohith Vemula was unfortunate and condemnable,” Naidu said. “Main issue is what are the circumstances forcing students to commit suicide,” he added.
“Stop scoring political points by defaming other parties; we will not back down,” Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said after Naidu’s remarks.
Participating in the debate , Union HRD Smriti Irani spoke on Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula’s death at University of Hyderabad, rejecting allegations that she sought action against him.
Irani, speaking in Lok Sabha, accused Opposition MPs of writing her letters and asking for favours. She named MPs from Congress, Trinamool and other parties.
“You accuse me of writing letters but then send letters to me requesting help in school admissions,” said Irani.
“I am not certifying your patriotism but don’t demean mine,” she said.
Earlier in the day, Congress leader Jyoritaditya Scindia tore into the government , blaming the NDA for the suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad and saying the sedition controversy on JNU was a blot on the nation.
Speaking on the second day of the budget session in Parliament, the Guna MP accused the BJP of fostering “an atmosphere of intolerance” and crushing any voice of dissent, triggering uproar from the government benches.
“This government’s philosophy is ‘my way or the highway,” he said.
The former Union minister said official machinery was misused to target Vemula and other lower-caste students at the University of Hyderabad and that the government was responsible for his death.
He also criticised home minister Rajnath Singh for his statement earlier this month that the shouting of allegedly “anti-national” slogans at JNU was linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed. The comment was based on a tweet from a handle that has since been reported to be fake.
Soon after Question Hour, Mahajan said the House would take up a short duration discussion on the functioning of universities in the country, including incidents at JNU and Hyderabad University, in the afternoon.
Leader of Congress Mallikarjun Kharge along with two others had given notice of Adjournment Motion on the issue and the Speaker decided to go for the discussion on the issue today itself.
“If students are found guilty of anti-national sloganeering then strictest possible punishment should be given,” Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav said over the debate.
This led to protests by other Opposition parties, including Trinamool Congress, CPI (M), CPI, BJD and TRS, who said that Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia had himself proposed on Tuesday in the Business Advisory Committee (BAC) meeting that the discussion should be held on February 25 after presentation of the Railway Budget.
Rajya Sabha has already decided to discuss the issue.
What happened in Rajya Sabha
Loud anti-government slogans causing an uproar over the death of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula disrupted the Rajya Sabha several times on Wednesday and the Upper House was adjourned for the day when the members assembled at 3.45pm after five adjournments.
Even though a discussion on the issue was listed for Wednesday, Mayawati (BSP) wanted a response from the government to her demand for resignation of the union ministers allegedly linked to the suicide, sacking of the vice-chancellor of University of Hyderabad and inclusion of a Dalit member in the judicial committee probing the suicide.
The government said it was ready for an immediate discussion followed by a reply by the concerned minister.
But the BSP members were not satisfied and shouted slogans after trooping into the Well, forcing Deputy Chairman P J Kurien to first adjourn the House for 10 minutes and then till noon.
Raising the issue, Mayawati (BSP) said the suicide by the Vemula, a Dalit student of the Hyderabad University, was a matter of grave concern.
The government and opposition parties on Wednesday were all ready to face the first day of Budget session of Parliament with several issues, including the JNU controversy, troubling the Narendra Modi dispensation.
Concerned over the frequent disruptions in Lok Sabha during the last two sessions, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan has held consultations with a number of senior leaders including Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Trinamool Congress leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay on Tuesday ahead of the all party meeting. She also met BJD’s Bhartruhari Mahtab.
Parliament sources told PTI the Speaker has been in touch with leaders of other parties too.
Opposition leaders have thrown the ball in the government’s court over the smooth conduct of Lok Sabha in the Budget session, insisting that the government needs to be “more articulate” in floor management.
“House belongs to the Opposition as per democratic norms and Opposition leaders should be allowed to have their say,” Trinamool Congress leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay, who had a meeting with Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, said.
At the same time, he said his party agreed with the Speaker’s suggestion for allowing smooth conduct of the question hour. This, he said, needed to be observed except when a national issue comes up.
(With agency inputs)