HRD minister Smriti Irani hit back at CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury on Thursday after he accused the BJP of trying to suppress dissent and impose their idea of a “theocratic, fascistic Hindu Rashtra” on the country.
“When was the last time CPI (M) talked about something and achieved it at national level,” Irani said.
Functioning for nearly the whole day after a long time, the Rajya Sabha witnessed an intense debate on the recent incidents in the Jawaharlal Nehru University and Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide, even as Irani’s reply was cut short due to protests which lead to the Upper House’s adjournment for the day.
As the House saw proceedings without any disruptions due to protests, the debate saw several heated-up moments, where the treasury and opposition members engaged in fierce arguments.
Taking on the opposition over their criticisms, Irani said she is called the “anpadh mantri” (illiterate minister).
“I do not claim I am as erudite a speaker as Mr Yechury. But since people blame me for having a flair for drama, let me quote from ‘Macbeth’ and say “fair is foul and foul is fair” that is how ‘Macbeth’ began indicating that nothing is as it seems,” she said, starting her reply to the short-duration discussion.
She said that she has been cautioned over getting agitated. “I have been cautioned, Smriti don’t get agitated,” the minister said.
Defending the government actions, Irani said it was not the first time police had entered the JNU campus.
She also said that she talked to Vemula’s mother often, but people don’t know about it.
However, touching upon the JNU issue, Irani referred to “Mahishasur Martyrdom Day” observed in JNU. As she read out a document on Mahishasur Puja -- referring to the demon slain by the goddess Durga -- which she said came from the JNU, it created a huge uproar among the opposition.
“When they went to JNU they wanted insult of gods and goddesses be within freedom of speech. What was the need for (Congress vice president) Rahul Gandhi to accept such insult of gods,” Irani said amid ruckus in the House, leading to its adjournment for the day.
The debate, which was started by the Communist Party of India-Marxist’s (CPI-M) Yechury, saw Opposition parties condemning the police action in the JNU incident, and violence at Patiala House court, as well a the circumstances around the suicide of Vemula, following his suspension from the University of Hyderabad.
Yechury demanded the setting up of a House committee to examine the latest developments in various central universities, while initiating the debate in Rajya Sabha on the situation arising in the institutions of higher learning.
Yechury said an effort was being made to metamorphosis India -- a secular democratic republic -- into a “theocratic, fascistic Hindu Rashtra”.
“Please do not castigate the entire student community and the institutions,” and “stop this tirade for advancing your brand of nationalism”, he said and termed the government’s “interference” in some universities as “illegal”.
Seeking stern action against all anti-national activities, Yechury said the government was trying to suppress dissent and asked it not to castigate the entire student community and the institutions.
Observing that the ruling dispensation was seeking to impose its idea of “narrow nationalism” as against the concept of nationalism defined by a range of people from Emperor Ashoka to Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi, Yechury said “this is a serious matter” and wanted to know if opposition to the government could be called “anti-national”.