Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide continued to rock Parliament on Tuesday as the government and the Opposition traded charges — and breach of privilege notices — over misrepresentation of facts in the case.
Caught on the backfoot after the Congress submitted a notice on Monday against HRD minister Smriti Irani for misleading the Lok Sabha in the Vemula case, the ruling party hit back on Tuesday with labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya and several MPs of the BJP and its allies submitting similar notices against Jyotiraditya Scindia, the Congress chief whip in the lower house.
On February 24, Scindia had led the Opposition’s charge against the government during the debate on Vemula’s suicide and police action against JNU students, including the arrest of their leader under sedition charges. Another face-off between the government and the Opposition in Parliament appears imminent and threatens to overshadow the budget session.
To corner the principal opposition party, the AIADMK repeatedly stalled proceedings in both Houses of Parliament, demanding action against “the former finance minister’s son” — the reference was to P Chidambaram’s son Karti — for his alleged involvement in the Aircel-Maxis telecom deal being probed by the CBI.
The AIADMK MPs claimed law enforcement agencies had details of his involvement and financial gains but the government was not acting on it. Karti has denied the allegations. The AIADMK’s disruptive tactics prompted Ghulam Nabi Azad, leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, to accuse the BJP and its allies of trying to scuttle discussion on a calling attention motion on inflammatory speeches by Union minister Ram Shankar Katheria.
Amid uproarious scenes in the Lok Sabha, the BJP’s chief whip Arjun Ram Meghwal said Scindia had wrongly quoted Dattatreya as calling Vemula casteist, extremist and anti-social. The labour minister maintained the Congress chief whip had “tarnished” his image and reputation as he never made such remarks about Vemula.
“My mother used to sell onions. I have always worked for OBCs, Dalits... I have made sacrifices for Dalits,” Dattatreya said.
He added that his letter to Irani made no mention of Vemula’s name. “I never made such a charge against him.”
Scindia rubbished the minister’s claims. “It is a typical tactic of the BJP to muzzle voices in a democracy. Whatever I said was what he (Dattatreya) used in the letter to describe the goings-on in the university and the Ambedkar Students’ Association. It was then that the university took action against students. One of them committed suicide,” Scindia said.
“By inference, his remarks were against these five students. And he (the minister) never clarified that his remarks were not meant towards Rohith. If the BJP thinks they can suppress my voice, I will speak out even more strongly,” he said.
In a notice moved on Monday, Congress MP KC Venugopal had cited misrepresentation of several facts in Irani’s reply to the debate on recent incidents at JNU and University of Hyderabad.
Vemula’s mother and brother had earlier addressed a press conference in the Capital to rebut the HRD minister’s claims. Congress MP B Mungekar submitted another notice in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday to move a breach of privilege motion against Irani.
The issue of the privilege motion had created a brief uproar in the Lok Sabha on Monday before finance minister Arun Jaitely started presenting the Union Budget 2016-17, with Opposition members seeking to know the status of their notices against Irani. Amid an uproar, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan said she had received notices from both sides and those were under her consideration.
In the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, Azad sought to know the status of the party’s notice. “She (Irani) has misled this House and the nation through the House. Not only here, she has misled the country in both the Houses. It is a very, very serious charge,” he said.
Other Opposition members backed the Congress leader, with Janata Dal-United leader Sharad Yadav saying it was “a serious issue, and we support it”.
Deputy chairman of the upper House PJ Kurien said the notice “is under the consideration of the chair. The chair will get back to you”.