‘Meri jaat bataa kar dikhao': Smriti Irani takes Opposition to school in Lok Sabha, impresses party principals
By the time Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani finished with her speech in Lok Sabha on Rohith Vemula’s suicide and the JNU issue, she impressively justified her aggressive posturing throughout the day including her face off with Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati in Rajya Sabha.
In her response to over four-hour-long discussion, Smriti nonchalantly combined the role of a scriptwriter, producer, director, minister, actor, orator and a hurt woman into one — all to perfection. Her speech was a mix of emotions, rhetoric, substance and melodrama (anger, loaded pause, tears rolling and occasional choking with emotions).
HRD Minister Smriti Irani. PTIHRD Minister Smriti Irani. PTI
Thanks to her fiery delivery, the minister succeeded in convincing her political bosses and all in BJP’s rank and file that she was competent enough to take on the high and mighty from the opposition ranks. This, at a time, when the entire opposition stood united against her, her government and the ideological stream she belonged to. Irani’s speech on the floor of Lok Sabha was clearly an embodiment of the nationalist Hindutava thought process. For those belonging to this school of thought, her speech would serve as a document helping them in the indoctrination process of generations that would choose this stream of ideology in future. The effect of her speech was such that Home Minister Rajnath Singh complimented her on floor of the House. After today’s speech in Parliament, Irani’s detractors may have reasons to feel even more bitter about her but she did hike her importance both in the RSS-BJP hierarchy.
Irani appeared well-prepared to deliver a shock and awe counter strike on the Opposition benches as she was armed with loads of documents to supplement her claims. From official notes, books to radical left literature she was equipped with all weapons that were needed to prove her point. From the point go she made it apparent who was on her radar for offence — Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Trinamool Congress and the Left. It seemed she was waiting for this moment for quite some time — to clear her name, her role as HRD minister, her government’s position and to take on the opposition particularly the Congress and the Left. Anyone from the opposition benches who ever wrote to her seeking her’s or her ministry’s favour on different matters were at their wits end as Irani named everyone and asserted how effectively she addressed their issues. Most of these requests were either related to admissions or appointments in differnt Central-government aided institutions. Irani made it clear that she did not do any extra favour by sending repeated reminders to the Hyderabad Central University when her ministerial colleague Bandaru Dattatreya wrote multiple letters to her on different incidents happening in that university. She went on to quote letters written by Hanumantha Rao, Oommen Chandy, Shashi Tharoor (all Congress), Asaduddin Owasi, Pappu Yadav, Saugat Roy, Pradip Bhattacharya among others.
Hitting out at the Congress where it could hurt most, she targeted its vice president Rahul Gandhi by first talking about how Atal Bihari Vajpayee had called former prime minister Indira Gandhi “Durga” after 1971 war victory against Pakistan and the following liberation of Bangladesh. “Chunao toh Indira Gandhi bhi hari thi lekin unke beton ne kabhi Bharat ki Barbadi ka nara lagane walon ka saath nahi diya (Indira Gandhi too had lost elections but her sons never supported those who shouted slogans for the destruction of India),” Irani said in an obvious reference to Rahul’s father and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and his uncle Sanjay Gandhi.
Responding to the Congress’s charge against her, Irani asked what her crime was. Was she being consistently targeted because she contested elections from Amethi (against Rahul Gandhi)? “Mera naam Smriti Irani hai meri jaat bata kar dikhao (My name is Smriti Irani, I challenge you to tell my caste). I am angry today because the mother who gives birth is accused of murder,” said the minister in a voice that quivered with emotions. She vehemently denied that she allowed Rohit Vemula’s suicide to become a Dalit versus non-Dalit battle. Contrary to that she charged Rahul and other opposition leaders of playing politics over Rohit Vemula’s dead body. “Have you ever seen Rahul Gandhi go to a place twice? Six hundred young boys died in the Telangana agitation. Did Rahul Gandhi visited even once? He went to Hyderabad twice. In his suicide note Rohit says nobody is responsible for his death. That report is from the Telangana Police, not mine,” Irani said.
Smriti revealed that no doctor was allowed near Rohit for long when he was found hanging in a hostel room. “Who was competent to certify his death? Why did they not allow the doctors to revive his life, to take him to the hospital? Not one attempt was made to revive him. Those who were shouting slogans were not the once who wanted justice but they wanted to do politics. No police was allowed to go near him till 6.30 next morning. His body was used as a political tool,” the minister said. She even cited that if the vertebrae in the neck does not get snapped and even if pulse falls down to a 30-40 beat, there is still a possibility that the victim could be revived if timely medical intervention is available.
Irani said that all members of the executive council of the Hyderabad Central University on whose report action was taken against Rohit were UPA appointees and not NDA’s. She also responded to Rahul’s charge that all VC’s in Central universities were RSS members. “Twenty Chancellors and 16 Vice-Chancellors in office are UPA appointees and if anyone among them with evidence could say that she had saffronised the university she would quit politics,” Irani said. In course of her speech, she didn’t even spare Telangana Chief Minister KC Rao either as she felt that the response by the state government was not adequate.
The minister even quoted extensively from a book prepared by Teesta Setalvad, which was commissioned to her by Irani’s predecessor in the UPA government — Kapil Sibal. The minister presented a gamut of evidences how school textbooks from different classes were toeing Pakistan’s line on Jammu and Kashmir. The entire history in these textbooks was lopsided as it was in stark contrast to reality and to what India believes on the issue. Shockingly, these were being taught to the students of class IV and VI.
There is no indication that the national versus anti-national debate triggered by the JNU row would go away soon as she referred to the university’s report that anti-India slogans were indeed shouted on 9 February in the campus. Irani pointed out that a leaflet distributed by Umar Khalid, Anirban Bhattacharya and Kanhaiya Kumar on 10 February called India a “murderous republic” (because of Afzal Guru and Yakub Memom’s hanging). The minister also quoted from another poster Mahisasur Martyrdom which went on to the extent of calling Goddess Durga as a “sex worker” for tricking Mahisasur into marriage and slaying him later.
“Is this freedom of speech? I want to know if Rahul Gandhi, Saugata Roy or Saugata Bose would like to discuss this freedom of speech. I fail to understand the depravity of these so-called students,” Irani said pointing to the empty Congress benches as the largest party staged a walkout.
Perhaps this was the best available option for the Congress MPs to save their faces.