Opposition parties demanded the resignations of central ministers Smriti Irani and Bandaru Dattatreya on Tuesday for allegedly driving a Dalit scholar in Hyderabad to suicide, as rivals closed ranks to attack the NDA government over the issue that has sparked a huge political storm.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi visited the University of Hyderabad where Rohith Vermula was found hanging on Sunday, while parties like the BSP, Trinamool Congress, CPI(M) and even NDA-constituent LJP were preparing to send fact-finding teams.
Police booked Dattatreya, the vice-chancellor of the university and two members of the right-wing students’ group ABVP for abetting the suicide of the 26-year-old student, who was among five research scholars suspended by the institution and was also accused of assaulting a student leader.
The five were allegedly suspended after Dattatreya last year wrote to HRD minister Irani describing the university as a “den of casteist, extremist and anti-national politics.”
Irani came under opposition fire after the emergence of five letters written by the HRD ministry to the university, seeking a response to Dattatreya’s complaint against the alleged attack on an ABVP activist.
As students’ protests spread to other campuses, including in Maharashtra and Delhi, the ruling BJP rubbished the opposition charges and rejected the resignation demands.
Minister of state for parliamentary affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi accused the Congress of aggravating the tense situation.
BJP general secretary Muralidhar Rao said in a Facebook post the suicide case “has now been made into a political issue by Congress, media and some other political and non-political groups. As it is clearly evident from his suicide note, Rohith was in conflict with himself.”
“The context of the clash between student groups was Rohith’s stand in support of terrorism, including that against hanging of Yakub Memon,” said Rao.
Sources said the home ministry had asked the Telangana government for a report on the incident and it’s expected to arrive on Wednesday.
“What has happened is unsettling. Students are the future of our country and it is condemnable a student has to take such a step because he was being discriminated. This is the 21st century and if a student takes such a step because he is a Dalit, then it is a matter of great concern,” LJP’s Chirag Paswan told ANI.
A senior BJP functionary told HT there were concerns in the party that the incident may have a bearing on its prospects in five states going to polls around April-May, especially Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
It has also given more ammunition to opposition parties to target the government in the upcoming budget session of Parliament.
“It’s not suicide. It’s murder. It’s murder of democracy, social justice and equality. (PM Narendra) Modi ji should sack ministers and apologize to the nation… Modi government (is) constitutionally duty bound to uplift Dalits. Instead, Modi ji’s ministers got five Dalit students ostracised and suspended (sic),” Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal tweeted.
An umbrella organisation of student groups launched an indefinite strike at the University of Hyderabad, seeking the V-C’s resignation, while author Ashok Vajpeyi announced he would return the DLitt honour conferred on him by the institution.
Addressing students at the university, Rahul Gandhi said the “conditions” for the suicide were created by Dattatreya, the vice-chancellor and the institute and demanded “strictest” punishment for those responsible for his death.
He said failure to ensure justice for the research scholar will be an “insult to him, to every student and teacher in this institute”.
Rahul, who also met Rohith’s mother, exhorted students to “carry forward this fight” to ensure the minimum rights to every citizen of this institute and the country.
“I request the BJP not to play dangerous political games with students,” RJD chief Lalu Prasad said in a tweet, adding that the BJP and RSS’ casteist agenda led to Rohith’s death.
Congress leader Kumari Selja demanded that Dattatreya and Irani should resign or they be sacked by the PM.
“The BJP and RSS are trying to inflict this dangerous discrimination in higher education institutes and encroach on the fundamental rights of students. It is time the PM speaks up and assure Dalits,” said CPI(M)’s Mohammed Salim.