The Opposition has decided to charge human resource development minister Smriti Irani with breach of privilege in Parliament, indicating that Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide and the JNU row will continue to cast a shadow on the budget session.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley will present the general budget on Monday and the ruling coalition hopes to shift the political discourse from controversial students’ issues to economic matters. But on the same day, the Congress, the CPI(M) and the Janata Dal (United) could move a privilege motion against Irani in both houses of Parliament.
CPI(M) leader Mohd Salim said he would move the privilege motion in the Lok Sabha while KC Tyagi of the JD(U) said his party would move the motion in the Rajya Sabha.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi told Rohith Vermula’s mother and brother that she would stand by them till justice was done. Party vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s office put up a link to a video of Rohith’s mother contradicting Irani on his Twitter handle with the remark, “Satyamev Jayate! Modiji do hear these words of Rohith Vemula’s mother”.
The jibe was targeted at the PM who had shared a link of Irani’s first speech during the JNU debate in the Lok Sabha with the comment “Satyamev Jayate”.
सत्यमेव जयते!— Office of RG (@OfficeOfRG) February 27, 2016
Modiji do hear these words of Rohith Vemula's mother: https://t.co/3ZWKusIysT
Top Congress sources said they had identified at least three potential faults in Irani’s reply in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday. “Rohith Vemula’s family and the doctor who examined Rohith’s body have already contradicted what the minister told Parliament. These are the two key matters of privilege,” said a senior Congress leader involved in the party’s internal consultations on the JNU and University of Hyderabad issues.
“The minister has not only been economical with the truth but has also wilfully misled Parliament on the unfortunate suicide of a young Dalit student, Rohith Vemula. The Congress will move a privilege motion against the HRD minister for misleading Parliament,” former social justice minister Mukul Wasnik said on Saturday.
The Congress might also challenge the document referring to Mahishasura which Irani read in the Rajya Sabha, leading to a furore. “She said she had authenticated it. But we may like to challenge the veracity of that material,” a senior Congress leader said.
A privilege matter, which entails a lengthy deliberation process in Parliament, could even lead to the expulsion of a member. On November 18, 1977, the Lok Sabha had expelled Indira Gandhi, who won from Chikmagalur, from its membership after a privilege charge was proved to be correct. A year later, however, it was withdrawn.
Replying to the debate related to recent developments at University of Hyderabad and JNU, Irani had alleged that no doctor was allowed near Vemula’s body for hours after he committed suicide. Vemula’s family countered the claim to say that after the body was discovered at 7 pm, Dr Rajshree came around 7.30 pm.
Vemula’s friend Prashant refuted the minister’s other remark that the inquiry committee to review the matter had the university’s chief warden as a member. “Our chief warden was never a part of the inquiry,” Prashant said on Friday.
Congress leaders were quick to latch on to the statements of Vemula’s friends and family.
“The strong words from Rohith Vemula’s mother, who has lost her son to BJP and in particular the HRD minister’s campus politics, is a stamp of how recklessly and ruthlessly their party is hell-bent on clamping down the voices of dissent,” Wasnik said, quoting Rohith’s mother Radhika Vemula’s remarks.