PM Modi’s remark must now guide the BJP’s response to Rohith Vemula’s suicide
EDITORIAl. January 22, 2016
The BJP’s initial reaction to the suicide of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit PhD scholar at the University of Hyderabad, stood out for its lack of grace and political intelligence, especially with Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Smriti Irani preferring a combative tone to a nuanced and sensitive response to the incident. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s brief remark at a ceremony in Lucknow’s Ambedkar university on Friday that “India has lost her son” and that he understands the pain, seeks to redeem the situation. He didn’t directly address the grieving family or the protests but there was acknowledgement that something grievous had happened that needed to be mourned. It should prod the BJP’s real and virtual supporters to reflect on their indefensible conduct after Vemula’s tragic death. The judicial inquiry now ordered by the HRD ministry into the circumstances that led to Vemula’s suicide, though belated, is a step in the right direction.
Vemula’s was a political act that highlighted discrimination and societal insensitiveness that Dalits face. His Dalit social self and political identity as an Ambedkarite, and insistence that justice was denied to Yakub Memon, infuriated his political opponents. The BJP’s student wing, the ABVP, Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya, the HRD ministry, and the university bureaucracy characterised Vemula and the Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA) as “anti-national”. Addressing the media after Vemula’s death, Irani described the protests as “a conspiracy with malicious intent” to turn the incident into a “caste battle”. Her bid to highlight the OBC status of both Dattatreya and the ABVP leader who had filed the complaint against the ASA activists, who got suspended, was uncalled for. A senior BJP functionary like P. Muralidhar Rao went to the lengths of even disputing Vemula’s Dalit identity. That caste discrimination prevails on our campuses — as in other public and private spaces — is a fact. Leaders need to recognise that this influences even institutional responses and work to eliminate it, rather than be in denial or presume ignorance as they did in the Vemula case. Last year, while speaking at the birth anniversary of Kerala Dalit leader, Mahatma Ayyankali, Modi had said a combination of “samata” (equality) and “mamata” (motherly love) would lead to “samarasta” (social harmony). BJP leaders should heed the PM, as even its allies have started showing discomfort with the party’s response to incidents perceived to have an anti-Dalit bias.
A smart election strategy, intense campaign and positive development agenda made Modi into a youth mascot and helped him win an unprecedented majority in the 2014 general election. Less than two years later, many campuses like the FTII, Pune have turned restive. An impression is gaining that the state is unresponsive to students’ concerns and views them as opposition. The onus is on the government to disprove it.- See more at: http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/editorials/rohith-vemula-suicide-narendra-modi-smriti-irani/#sthash.6xD9MIsl.dpuf