NEW DELHI: After her theatrical speech in the Lok Sabha that had even Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeting his appreciation, HRD Minister Smriti Irani spent most of Thursday and all of Friday facing flak from the Dalit leaders, students and even the family of Rohith Vemula whose suicide has sparked off a storm that shows little sign of abating.

Irani who was a recognised television actor, lived up to her reputation while responding to the discussion on the attack on JNU and HCU students, but took liberties with the facts that have since been exposed by not just the MP’s inside Parliament but also the students and faculty outside. Vemula’s mother, his family and students from the Hyderabad Central University held a press conference in Delhi to expose what they said were lies, and expressed deep worry about what was described as a conspiracy to bury the case, and ensure that justice was not done.

Earlier in the day Bahujan Samaj party leader Mayawati, took off all kid gloves, to fire the central government and Minister Irani for not including a Dalit member in the probe commission set up to enquire into Vemula’s suicide. She did not mince words in pointing to her worry that the NDA government was not interested in bringing justice for Rohith Vemula, but was instead trying to cover up its role in the circumstances leading to his death. In characteristic fashion Mayawati refused to budge until she had had her say and towards the end reminded the House that earlier Minister Irani had promised the BSP that she would cut off her head and place it at their feet, if her response to the debate was found wanting. Mayawati then asked Irani who was present in the Rajya Sabha whether she would now fulfil her promise, as her reply was clearly full of holes and was not acceptable. Irani could be heard in the din saying that the BSP members could come and cut off her head if they so wanted, and that Mayawati was not interested in justice but in politics. The BSP leader ignored the Minister on went on with her remarks, with much of what she said being lost in the din. The Minister could be seen jumping up for repartees, but the fire and brimstone was missing.

This is partly because of Mayawati’s no holds barred attack on the government and the RSS on the Rohith Vemula issue, more so as her strong assertion is clearly seen as a damper for the BJP that has already started campaigning in Uttar Pradesh for the state elections next year, as a defeat here after Bihar is something the party cannot afford. After a long time Parliament saw the old shades of Mayawati, who first ensured that the Rajya Sabha was adjourned because the government had not answered her question as to whether it had included a Dalit member in the probe commission; and then returned after the debate with an attack on the government’s anti-Dalit positions as reflected in its handling of the Vemula issue.

If this was not enough, Rohith Vemula’s family and colleagues as well as members of the Joint Action Committee formed in HCU after his death, held a press conference that attacked Irani for not speaking the truth in Parliament, a charge voiced by other MPs in the Lok Sabha as well. It is not often, in fact a very rare occurrence, when a Ministers statement or reply in Parliament is riddled with as many inaccuracies as Irani’s was. And what has made it worse for the government is that it is being seen directly in conflict with the Dalits across the country, with the young scholars suicide having struck a chord across the country.

The worry in sections of the BJP is growing as a result, with the old timers watching the play out in Parliament without saying a word publicly. However, given the visible disaffection now there is quiet worry that the BJP’s efforts to woo the Dalit vote, at least in western UP, as part of its social engineering through the simmering violence in Muzaffarnagar, might have come a cropper with this anger that seems to be spreading outside Hyderabad with rapidity. Mayawati’s strong response is an indication of this, with her constituency clearly reacting to what is fast becoming an emotive issue for all.

The joint Action Committee for Social Justice (UoH) condemns reflected this aner when it condemned “ in the strongest possible words, the flagrant manipulation of facts and blatant lies uttered by the Minister of HRD Smriti Irani in Parliament. Through a performance filled with melodrama and sensationalism, Smriti Irani did not leave any stone unturned in vilifying and denigrating our struggle for #JusticeforRohith. We are shocked and deeply outraged by her fabricated statements about Rohith’s death.”

The JAC sought to nail the following ‘lies”;

Smriti Irani: “No one allowed a doctor near this child, to revive this child. Instead, his body was used as a political tool. No police was allowed till 6:30 am the following morning. Who tried to help this child?” T

1. JAC: this is a blatant lie. Smriti Irani must review her facts and have a look at the medical report and the video evidence that confirms the death of Rohith. Having received a call from a PhD research scholar of University of Hyderabad and Security personnel, Dr. M. Rajshree, the medical officer on-duty on 17th January rushed to the NRS Hostel in four minutes and certified Rohith’s death at 7.30 pm. (it quotes from the medical records to prove this)

2. Smriti Irani: “The committee which suspended Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula was not constituted by our government, but by the UPA regime.” JAC: This is yet another utterly false statement. The Executive Council that socially boycotted five dalit research scholars was headed by the newly appointed Vice-Chancellor (VC) Prof. Appa Rao Podile (appointed by BJP government. (the full sequence of events is narrated)

3. Smriti Irani: Political intervention was non-existent in the case. JAC: There was outright political intervention from ABVP, BJYM and BJP. At first, the MLC Ramachandra Rao misused his position and threatened the University to take action against the Dalit research scholars.

He warned the University administration that “outsiders” would teach them a lesson otherwise.

Later, the Union Cabinet Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Bandaru Dattatreya wrote a letter to Smriti Irani accusing members of Ambedkar Students’ Association with atrocious, baseless and utterly false allegations. He further branded University of Hyderabad as a “den of casteists, extremists and anti-nationals”. (sequence of events is presented in detail to highlight the political intervention that they said had led to Rohith Vemula’s decision to take his life out of a sense of futility and resignation that he would not get justice from the system.

The anger of the students poured out at the press briefing. Many have travelled from Hyderabad to participate in a march in Delhi for justice for Rohith Vemula. They also participated in a candlelight vigil where the police broke up the peaceful demonstration, detailed the students, while the girls present formed a protecting ring around Vemula’s mother so that she was not hurt in the fracas.

The political grapevine in and outside Parliament by Friday evening, with all wondering what the BJP was hoping to achieve through this continuing high handedness. BJP and Opposition MPs mingled to ask this question of each other in central hall, sources said, more so as all political parties are readying for a spate of Assembly elections starting April this year. Senior leaders were certain that the Vemula case would snowball through the country, having a major impact in campuses across as well as on Dalits as a community. All spoken to were agreed that the entry of Mayawati into the controversy was an indication of this.