Thursday / March 28.




By Amulya Ganguli


In a voice choked with (feigned?) emotion, Narendra Modi told the Ambedkar University convocation last Friday that Rohith Vemula was forced to take his own life. But he did not specify who forced the Dalit student although the prime minister knew that the “culprits” were in his cabinet. Moreover, they are likely to continue in their posts despite their guilt – unless they are booked for the abetment of suicide.


The two “guilty” ministers, however, must be wondering what they did wrong. After all, when labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya shot off a letter to the “high school girl” – SmritiIrani has studied only up to Class XII – in the human resource development ministry, complaining about how Hyderabad University has become a “den of casteism, extremism and anti-national politics”, he must have felt that he was only doing his duty.


Irani, too, must have felt the same when she badgered the Hyderabad University vice-chancellor, Appa Rao Podile – (poodle?) – with one missive after another, asking what he had done after the earlier letter from a “VIP” minister was forwarded to him.


It is understandable that to Dattatreya and Irani, the matter was of the utmost importance because Rohith and several other Dalits students of the Ambedkar Students Association (ABA) had been involved in a clash with a group of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) students.


The importance of the issue stemmed from the fact that, first, the ABVP is the BJP’s student wing and, therefore, “more equal” than the ABA; and, secondly, the clash was over the opposition of the Dalit students to the hanging of the terrorist, Yakub Memon, which immediately put them in the anti-national category in the saffron lexicon although any number of op-ed pieces had been written, and television debates held, against capital punishment.


However, as chest thumping patriots, the ministers were keen to side with the ABVP. As a BJP general secretary, P Murlidhar Rao, has said, “the context of the clash between the student groups was Rohith’s stand in support of terrorism”.


The real context, however, is the atmosphere of hate and intolerance which the Hindu Right has fostered in the country with their relentless campaign against those they stigmatize as enemies of the nation. Nor is it only now that the stoking of fear among their perceived opponents and the spreading of prejudice and fanaticism have become a part of their agenda. These tactics have constituted their game plan from the 1990s when mosques and churches were targeted for destruction, an eminent painter, M.F. Husain, was driven into exile and art galleries vandalized for displaying “anti-Hindu” paintings.


In the recent past, the Hindu Right has engaged in killing rationalists and communists like M M Kalburgi, Nirmal Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, and lynching suspected beef eaters. Rohith is their latest victim. It will take much more, therefore, than the belated expression of regret by the prime minister to show that the government actually regards the Constitution as the country’s only holy book.


The government and the ruling party at the centre have to demonstrate the same kind of proactive approach against the Hindutva militants as they did to book the irritating gadfly, Hardik Patel, on the charge of sedition. Only then will there be a partial restoration of popular faith in their seriousness to adhere to constitutional governance which does not allow ministers to dictate to autonomous universities.


Otherwise, it will seem that the BJP is surreptitiously nurturing the Hindu Right, as the Pakistan army does with the “good” terrorists, to ensure that they can come to the party’s help if the electoral scene becomes unfavourable. Considering that the economy is refusing to look up and Nitish Kumar is trying his best to stop the return of “jungle raj” in Bihar to bolster his credentials as a national leader, the BJP can hardly expect a repeat of 2014 in 2019.


Coddling the Hindu Right will not help it. As it is, Mohammed Akhlaq’s murder in Dadri, U.P., on the charge of eating beef, and the occasional attacks that are carried out against suspected beef eaters like on fast bowler Mohammed Shafi’s brother, have widened the already existing gulf between the BJP and the Muslims.


Now, Rohith’s suicide because of the overzealousness of Modi’s ministers has undone much of the efforts which the BJP has been making to woo the Dalits. It is back again to the days of Arun Shourie’s anti-Ambedkar book, Worshipping False Gods.


Hyderabad University is not the first educational institution where the BJP has shown its intolerance of critics which made a section of writers, historians, filmmakers and others return their awards some time ago. Last summer, the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, banned the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle, presumably at the centre’s behest, for being critical of the prime minister.


The resultant uproar led to the ban being lifted just as the sorrow and outrage over Rohith’s suicide have persuaded the Hyderabad University to revoke the suspension order on those “anti-national” Dalit students who had been involved in a confrontation with the ABVP along with Rohith.


Notwithstanding these backtrackings, there is little doubt that the BJP will have to pay a heavy political price in the forthcoming elections, especially in U.P. where the Dalits (20.5 per cent) and Muslims (18 per cent) make up nearly 40 per cent of the state’s population. (IPA Service)