A belligerent Smriti Irani on Wednesday targeted the Congress, especially Rahul Gandhi, and the Left after a debate on Rohith Vemula’s suicide and the JNU sedition row in the Lok Sabha turned into a no-holds-barred battle between the Narendra Modi-led government and the Opposition.
In a hard-hitting reply, laced with emotion and anger, the HRD minister defended the action against students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, saying students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar and others had been found indulging in anti-national activities by the varsity authorities.
She also made an emotional pitch over Hyderabad university scholar Vemula’s suicide, insisting that her ministry had no role in his death and the deceased himself had said in his suicide note that nobody should be held responsible for his action.
Replying to the charged day-long debate on recent incidents in the Jawaharlal Nehru University and the Hyderabad university, a combative Irani said she was being targeted by the Congress for contesting against Rahul Gandhi in Amethi.
“I will not seek forgiveness for doing my duty...you (Congress members) never wanted to listen to my reply,” she said, as the Congress members, Left parties and Trinamool Congress staged a walkout while she was speaking.
Rejecting the charge of saffronising education, Irani said she would quit politics if it was established she made any attempt to do so.
Most of the vice-chancellors are Congress appointees, Irani said, adding she had asked them to listen to the students who come from different backgrounds and address their issues. “Help me build the nation, not destroy it from within,” she said.
Strongly refuting allegations that letters by her ministry to Hyderabad university had pressured Vemula, she cited examples of how her ministry follows up on issues raised by elected representatives.
She also refuted allegations of any bias in the working of the government. “My name is Smriti Irani. I challenge you to tell me my caste,” she said.
Irani said that the unfortunate suicide was being used for political ends. “Have you ever seen Rahul Gandhi go to one spot twice. Never. But in this, he saw political opportunity,” Irani said.
Prime Minister Modi later tweeted a link to Irani’s speech. “Do hear this speech by @smritiirani. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v3PlGs8...Satyamev Jayate,” Modi tweeted from his personal handle on Wednesday.
The inscription Satyamev Jayate (truth alone prevails) is contained in India’s state emblem.
Earlier, initiating the discussion, the Congress leader Jyotiradiya Scindia hit out at the central government, saying: “Inside parliament, the ministers of this government take oath of constitution and outside they crush it. Using government machinery they are crushing the voices of those who oppose the ideology of RSS.”
“They targeted Kanhaiya Kumar just because he was opposed to the ideology of RSS and had defeated an ABVP candidate in JNU election,” he added.
“What we have seen in the last two years is an atmosphere of intolerance in the country. There is every possible attempt to crush opposing viewpoint,” Scindia said.
He said party had been demanding action against Irani and labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya over the suicide of Vemula.
BJP leader Anurag Thakur, meanwhile, accused Gandhi of standing with anti-nationals and said the Congress would have to decide “whether you are with those who attacked our parliament or those who protect it? You will have to decide whether you are with ideology of Gandhiji or Maoists.”
“Your leader goes and sympathises with those who were celebrating Afzal Guru as a martyr,” he alleged.
Naidu also hit out at the Congress, saying no one was terming JNU as anti-national. He said it was duty of entire parliament to speak with one voice against those who had raised anti-national slogans.
Home minister Rajnath Singh assured the Lok Sabha that no innocent student will be harassed in JNU row.
Singh said the government had not intervened in the row concerning the Jawaharlal Nehru University and police had acted following alleged shouting of anti-national slogans at an event on the campus on February 9 to mark the anniversaries of executions of parliament attack convict Guru.
The minister said there could be a debate whether sedition charge should have been applied to JNU students union leader Kanhaiya Kumar and the issue will be decided by the court.
“I want to assure the house that no innocent will be harassed,” he said.
Referring to the violence in the Patiala House court ahead of court proceedings concerning Kanhaiya Kumar, he said the guilty will not be spared.