An emotionally charged war of words between an assertive BSP supremo Mayawati and an unrelenting HRD minister Smriti Irani marked the washout of proceedings in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.
The trigger was the suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula, with BSP members accusing the government of being “anti-Dalit and anti-Ambedkar” and Mayawati dubbing the incident an “insult to 25 crore Dalits”.
The BSP leader sought the government’s response on her demand for the resignation of two Union ministers allegedly linked to the suicide and on whether the inquiry commission probing Vemula’s suicide would have a Dalit member.
A sharp exchange of words between the BSP leader and Irani followed, but Mayawati was unyielding. She pinned the blame for Vemula’s suicide on the government’s “anti-Dalit” outlook and said the death was a consequence of the BJP at the Centre forcing the right-wing ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) on students.
Even when Irani accused the BSP of politicising Vemula’s death and retorted “…who uses a child as a political tool… who uses a child for their own political profit… who uses a dead child to play as a political strategy?” Mayawati remained steadfast that the discussion would commence only when she got her answer.
The BSP leader demanded the dismissal of Irani and Bandaru Dattatreya, accusing them of abetting the suicide. Her persistence led Irani to say, “I am ready to reply to all questions. First you allow the discussion... You are senior to me. You are a woman. If you want, I am ready to reply. If you are not satisfied with my reply, I am ready to behead myself and lay my head at your feet.”
Mayawati, preparing to fight a difficult electoral battle in the upcoming UP state assembly elections, was unsparing of the Congress-led UPA as well, accusing them of being no better than the RSS-BJP combine when it came to oppression of Dalits. BSP members forced several adjournments in the pre-lunch session.
The JDU’s KC Tyagi set off an uproar with a reference to Irani that was later expunged. The CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury echoed Mayawati’s views on the RSS making inroads into campuses and took potshots at the government for not responding to Opposition queries on Vemula’s death.
The House was adjourned for the day after assurances from deputy chairman PJ Kurien and minister of state for parliamentary affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi that Irani would respond to Mayawati’s question after the conclusion of the discussion on Thursday.