NEW DELHI: Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP Hanumantha Rao is angry. As he finds himself in the middle of a controversy, placed there unexpectedly by Human Resources Development Minister Smriti Irani, in the wake of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide. “She spoke of my letter, I thank her but what about my reply?” asked an irate Rao, who is a member of the Court of the Hyderabad Central University currently under fire.

Rao said that he had written a long letter to Irani in November 2014 on the state of affairs in the University under the previous Vice Chancellor. And there had been no response for 14 months until two days ago when the Minister raised his letter at her press conference, and kept referring to it “selectively”.

Rao said he had written about specific instances of corruption, of the deterioration in educational standards as reflected in lower mark percentages, and also of the death of seven students in three Semester. He said that “she just spoke of the deaths, and did not say a word about anything else at her recent press conference.” The MP said that he had not even received an acknowledgement of receipt of his letter from the HRD Ministry, let alone a response from her. “So I really do not know what the Minister is talking about,” he told The Citizen in a quick interview.

Rao, under pressure from the faculty and the students at the time, had penned a letter to Irani raising issues of corruption largely. He said that as far as he knows nothing was done by the Ministry on this. He said that the present Vice Chancellor was the Chief Warden then, “ jo khana khilata tha, sulata tha” and took advantage of a BJP “godfather” “like Venkiah Naidu” who pushed him into the top position. Rao said that the conduct meted out to the Dalit boys was inhuman. He said that the confrontation really began when the ABVP called the Ambedkar Association Students “goons” on a Facebook post. And with the intervention of the authorities it became worse.

Rao was furious about the attempt by Irani to equate his letter with that of the BJP leader Bandaru Dattatreya. “There is no comparison, I had written a letter about the malaise within the University giving specific examples. He has written attacking the students and others for extremism, anti nationalism…. He has written to defend the ABVP, it is so clear.” Rao ridiculed HRD Minister’s claim that the suicide should not be converted into an issue of caste, of Dalit versus non Dalit. “But it is her party colleague who has done this, his (Dattatreya) letter spoke of casteism, why, how?” he asked.

Rao pointed out that Irani and her government had said that if any MP wrote to a specific Ministry, he would get a response within 14 days. It has been 14 months, “but no one has sent me even a line in response.”

Hanumantha Rao named BJP MLC Ramachandra Rao (from graduates’ constituencies of Hyderabad, Ranga Reddy and Mehboob Nagar districts) for fanning the fires, to gain and keep the support of the ABVP students. According to the Congress leader, the MLC was known to visit the University and had intervened in the issue by meeting the Vice Chancellor and insisting that the University hold an enquiry into the alleged assault on ABVP leader Sushil Kumar. This was done but reportedly, according to the Ambedkar Students Association “the Inquiry Committee's report had the following findings:

1. "The Board could not get any hard evidence of beating of Susheel Kumar either from Krishna Chaitanya or from the reports submitted by Dr.Anupama. Dr.Anupama's reports also could not link or suggest the surgery of the Susheel Kumar is the direct result of the beating."

2. "According to DSO Dilip Singh, who was the first to reach to the spot, there was a big gathering of ASA cadres discussing with Sushil Kumar. When asked about the beating, he told that he didn't witness any beating of Susheel Kumar during his presence."

3. "Krishna Chaitanya could not present any hard evidence of Susheel Kumar's beating in support of his letter."

4. "It was clear from all depositions that Susheel Kumar posted the said comments on Facebook and ASA people went to Susheel's room to seek apology and for the removal of the post."

5. This whole argument ended with the apology letter of Susheel Kumar.”

Now Kumar, clearly under directions, has held a press conference. Interestingly after Vemula’s death he had expressed shock and described the Dalit leader as “brave.” At the press conference he struck a more belligerent tone, asking for a CBI enquiry against the students and “40 faculty members” for instigating “anti-national” activities in campus. He insisted that he was injured and had to undergo a surgery when attacked by the students, a claim that had earlier been reportedly refuted by the hospital authorities and others who insisted that the appendicitis and subsequent surgery was not related to the scuffle between the two groups.

Anti-national has become the theme of the BJP counter attack that has become more aggressive after Irani’s press conference.

”They were doing namaz for Yakub Memon," Kumar claimed. "They did namaz (offered prayers) for Yakub Memon. Anyone can protest against capital punishment, a constructive debate is fine, but statements (they made) like 'every house will deliver a Yakub' was disturbing,"he added.

BJP general secretary P. Muralidhar Rao tweeted on Wednesday: “Even one programme of ASA was not seen in support of national unity.” He further Rao added, “Linkages of these forums on campuses with bigger anti-national agencies must be probed, investigated and curbed.” He further Questioned whether Vemula was a Dalit at all, tweeting, “police investigation has revealed his parents belong to the Vaddera caste which comes under OBC in Andhra and Telangana.” And went on to ask, “Why are Congress and Leftists in support of beef festivals in campuses, but not for Indian festivals?” maintaining that ASA was a front for the ultra-left. Significantly, the BJP’s Bihar ally has not reacted positively to the developments. Lok Jan Shakti party leader Sanjay Paswan tweeted, "the stake holders of power politics must take serious note of Rohith Vemula episode or be ready to face wrath, revenge, revolt, reactions." He elaborated to journalists, “as a Dalit I know the struggle that students from the community go through to reach these levels of higher education. It is a tragedy that this ended like this."