Hyderabad/New Delhi: Under attack over the suicide of a dalit student, HRD Minister Smriti Irani on Wednesday launched a counter offensive accusing rivals of instigating students across the country on caste lines even as political leaders made a bee line to Hyderabad University.
Claiming that an attempt was being made to project the issue as dalit versus non-dalit confrontation, she also dismissed the demand for her resignation.
The other minister under the scanner, Bandaru Dattatreya, whose letter to her is blamed as one of the reasons for the suicide of dalit student Rohith Vemula, said that as a local MP he had only forwarded a letter of complaint.
BSP chief Mayawati demanded legal action against the two union ministers and Vice Chancellor Appa Rao over the suicide as a host of leaders including CPI(M)'s Sitaram Yechury, TMC MP Derek O' Brien and YSR Congress President Y. S. Jaganmohan Reddy visited the university and met the agitating students.
"The HRD minister has to go," Yechury said.
Students belonging to pro-CPI All India Students Federation tried to hold a demonstration near the residence of Dattatreya.
A delegation of NDA ally LJP led by party MPs Ramchandra Paswan and Chirag Paswan also met the protesting students and demanded a compensation of Rs5 million to the next kin of the deceased Vemula and strict punishment for those responsible.
After keeping a low profile for two days, Irani sought to do damage control by addressing a press conference in the capital when she accused political rivals of trying to ignite passion on caste lines and asserted that Vemula's suicide was not a dalit versus non dalit issue.
Flanked by three Union Ministers (Thaawar Chand Gahlot, Nirmala Sitharaman and Vijay Sampla), the HRD minister said
"An effort is on to instigate students all over the country. My appeal is, please do not instigate students and communities deliberately. Claiming that "there has been a malicious attempt to ignite passion and present this as a caste battle which it is not."
Advocating restraint, she said, "it is very easy to ignite passions and then regret."
Attacking Congress, Irani said "Congress wants to shoot politically on the issue, which is expected but unfortunate."
Asked about the demand for her resignation, she said "they (rivals) need to look at these reports (protocol on VIP communications). I want to reply to Rahul Gandhi's statement only through these reports."
As opposition parties targeted the government over the suicide, the minister reminded that the ABVP student, who was attacked in student rivalry earlier, also belonged to the OBC community as was Dattatreya, who had written a letter to her about the attack.
Seeking to turn the table on Congress, Irani also cited a letter written to her by Congress MP V. Hanumantha Rao in November 2014 and said he has also mentioned about suicides of students of marginalised sections that had been happening in the University during the past four years.
"Why did the Congress not debate and fix the issue then? Why it is debating it now?, she asked adding "the Congress MP says it's not a new problem but one that persisted for four years.
If they (Congress) had fixed the problem four years ago, perhaps Rohith would have been alive," the minister said.
Irani also produced a certified copy of the suicide note of Rohith to say that it did not mention any university official, political organisation or any MP.
Vice Chancellor Appa Rao Podile criticised attempts to "politicise" the issue, trashed talks about his being a "BJP man" and refused to step down owing to mounting protests.
Rao also said disciplinary action against Rohith Vemula and four other dalit students was not taken under any pressure from the HRD Ministry or Union Minister of State for Labour and Employment Bandaru Dattatreya.
Meanwhile, the two-member set up by the HRD ministry to look into the matter returned to the national capital after visiting the campus.