Union labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya sought to distance himself on Wednesday from the suicide of a Dalit scholar for which he has been blamed, as the BJP leader said he did not push the University of Hyderabad to suspend the student.
The minister has been named in an FIR for allegedly abetting the suicide of 26-year-old Rohith Vemula who was found hanging inside the institution on Sunday, with the death triggering a nationwide outcry and demands for Dattatreya’s resignation.
The BJP lawmaker said he only forwarded two representations he received from the right-wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) to the Union ministry of human resource development led by Smriti Irani who is also facing criticism over the incident.
“My role was only limited to forwarding these two representations. I would have happily forwarded representations of any other student body, if they had approached me,” Dattatreya said in a statement. “The University of Hyderabad, is an autonomous institution with established procedures and I have no role in the administration of the university.”
Critics say Dattatreya wrote a letter to the HRD ministry last year describing the university as a den of “casteist, extremist and anti-national politics” which pushed the institution to act against Vemula and a few other students over an alleged attack on an ABVP activist.
“Taking representations from common people, constituents and forwarding it to concerned ministries is what I consider my earnest responsibility by being an elected people’s representative,” the minister said.
Protests intensified at the university with a clutch of politicians arriving at the campus to meet the demonstrators, even as the vice-chancellor denied any pressure from the Centre to act against Vemula and the others.
“There was no pressure. We took the letters received as routine letters,” said V-C Appa Rao Podile, adding “there was no phone call from either of the ministers or any ministry official”.
Rao told HT the police commissioner had advised him to stay away from the university till tempers cool down but hoped for a resolution by Thursday afternoon. “We are looking at ways we can help these four suspended students,” he said.
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien and YSR Congress president YS Jaganmohan Reddy were among the politicians who interacted with the students on Wednesday.
“It is part of the larger issue of intolerance. Intolerance is also part of the larger issue. The larger issue is transform this secular, democratic, republic of India as our Constitution says, into what they want, a rabidly intolerant fascistic Hindu Rashtra,” Yechury told reporters. “That is the larger game.”
Police took into custody a few activists of the Left-leaning All India Students Federation (AISF) when they tried to hold a demonstration near Dattatreya’s residence.
(With agency inputs)