Impassioned Irani takes Opposition to task

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on January 20, 2018 Published on February 24, 2016

HRD Minister Smriti Irani speaks in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday PTI

Education Minister slams Opposition for politics over the death of Rohith Vemula

The day-long commotion in both Houses of Parliament over Dalit scholar Rohith Vermula’s suicide and the developments in JNU ended in an impassioned, and visibly emotional, Smriti Irani warning the Opposition against using “education as a political battleground”.

‘My name is Smriti Irani’

To loud applause from the treasury benches, the Union Human Resource Development Minister said the “death of a child (Rohith Vemula) should not be used to do vote-bank politics” – a sarcastic reference to Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi’s expression of solidarity with the Dalit scholar who committed suicide in January. Irani also rubbished allegations of discrimination against Vemula because he was Dalit by asserting, “My name is Smriti Irani and I challenge you to tell my caste.”

Irani was part of the government’s strong line of defence in the contentious debate that included Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu and party MP Anurag Thakur among others.

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Singh, under fire for quoting a fake Twitter account of Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed, said there was nothing much left for him to say after Irani’s “exemplary speech”. He, however, underlined that his statement about “jihadi” support for the “anti-national” protest in JNU on February 9 was not without basis. “I do not say anything without first considering all aspects…I had some evidence that I cannot quote, having been bound to an oath of secrecy,” the Home Minister said while asserting that “no innocent will suffer” in the ongoing sedition case against JNU students, who allegedly organised a meeting to support Kashmiri terrorists.

But it was Irani who, after having faced the Opposition onslaught over student unrest in universities across campuses, held fort for the longest time, asserting that she was taking the criticism “personally”. “I am taking this personally. If anyone here can prove that I am guilty of saffronising education, I will resign,” she said. Irani’s emotional speech also contained what seemed corroborative evidence for the JNU students’ alleged involvement in anti-national activities. She read out slogans described by the JNU security staff in a document that called for “ desh ki barbadi (the nation’s destruction)” “ Azadi for Kashmir (freedom for Kashmir)”, etc.

“Many people tell me – they are kids, spare them. But how does this depravity get seeded in the minds of our children? Today I am compelled to say this – are these just slogans? I want to quote a Roman philosopher – a nation can survive its fools and the ambitious but cannot survive traitors,” she said.

The House also saw an eloquent speech by Saugata Roy of Trinamool Congress, and several Left MPs accusing the government of muzzling the voice of the youth.

Congress attacks Irani

Initiating the debate, Congress’ Chief Whip Jyotiraditya Scindia alleged “undue interference” by Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani and Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya in Vemula’s case. “Bandaru Dattaterya in his letter had called Rohith a castiest and an anti-national. Where in the world can you see a HRD Minister writing five letters in any case,” he asked.

Scindia also raised the issues at FTII, IIT Madras and JNU and lambasted External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram and Irani for emphasising that Vemula was not a Dalit. Criticising the role of Hyderabad varsity’s administration, he said protests and fights are part of academic institutions but in this case the Vice-Chancellor should have tackled this issue in a better way.

“But for the last two years, with an atmosphere of intolerance, no one feels secure,” the Congress leader said.

Published on February 24, 2016
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