Union minister Smriti Irani’s attempts to embarrass the Opposition over JNU students allegedly displaying objectionable posters of goddess Durga and the suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula boomeranged on the ruling BJP on Friday.
While party MP Udit Raj, who attended the ‘Mahishasur Martyrdom Day’ at the Delhi-based university, distanced himself from her remarks about the event, Vemula’s family and friends called her speech in Parliament on his death a set of “absolute lies”.
“So far as it concerns the minister’s statement that the act (the event) was blasphemous, that’s wrong. Each one is free to profess his own faith. I participated in it. It was a debate on Ambedkar. What we spoke about was Ambedkarism,” Raj told HT. Asked if he saw any poster with blasphemous content about the deity, he said, “It wasn’t there.”
Mounting a spirited defence this week of her government’s actions at JNU, the HRD minister had read in Parliament from a pamphlet allegedly circulated on campus, which had derogatory references to Durga.
“In 2013 we had invited now BJP MP Udit Raj for our event on Mahishasur (the demon slain by Durga). We had many other activists and professors who attended the event. Udit Raj also came and gave a talk on Mahishasur,” said Anil Kumar, one of the organisers of the programme.
Though the ruling party sought to dissociate itself from the situation with Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi saying Raj was not a member of the BJP in 2013, it gave rivals the opportunity to allege the feisty female leader doesn’t let facts come in the way of her eloquence in attacking the Opposition.
The government and opposition leaders have been engaged in a raging debate linked to JNU students who have been accused of sedition over an event this month, in support of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, when anti-India slogans were allegedly chanted.
Vemula’s family accuses Irani
Irani had also attacked the Opposition over the death of University of Hyderabad student Rohith Vemula.
“This is how politics was played on this child and his dead body. Nobody allowed a doctor near him. The police have reported... Not one attempt was made to revive this child. Not one attempt was made to take him to a doctor. Instead, his body was used as a political tool. Hidden. No police was allowed till 6.30 the next morning. Not me, but the Telangana police are saying this,” she alleged.
But the scholar’s mother accused her on Friday of resorting to “blatant lies” and said “life imprisonment” will not be enough for her and others “responsible” for his death.
“Smriti Irani, this is not a serial, this is real life. Bring out the facts, don’t fabricate them,” said Radhika Vemula as she hit out at Irani, a former television star.
The 26-year-old student hanged himself at the university campus in January, days after he was banned from the hostel for allegedly attacking an activist of the BJP-linked ABVP.
Last month, about a dozen professors from the institute quit their administrative posts, accusing Irani of making “fabricated statements”.
They rubbished her claim that a Dalit professor was among the members of the university body that suspended Vemula.
Irani has also landed in trouble in the past after contradicting her own claims. While replying to a Lok Sabha discussion in April 2015 on the demands of grants from her ministry, she said the IIT Act was violated to open up an off-centre of the institute in Mauritius with “Indian taxpayers’ money” in 2013 when the UPA was in power.
The same day, while replying to a question in the Rajya Sabha, the minister said IIT-Delhi did not incur “any expenditure” either on setting up the off-campus or on starting academic programmes there.