By rushing to the University of Hyderabad (UoH) for the second time in just over 10 days to join the protest over the suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula—on Friday-Saturday midnight—Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi bared his intention to prolong the stir until at least the commencement of Parliament’s Budget session. And this, in spite of the majority of students on campus, which has been shut since 17 January, wanting normalcy to return and classes to resume; and despite the government and the university authorities meeting the major demands of the protesting students.
Saturday was Rohith’s birthday and Rahul Gandhi sat on a dharna, along with the agitating students, from morning to evening and demanded the resignations of Union ministers Smriti Irani and Bandaru Dattatreya. The police arrested a dozen of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) activists, who protested Rahul’s visit to the university. Rahul Gandhi first came here on 19 January to express his solidarity with the agitating students, who were demanding action against the then Vice-Chancellor, Appa Rao Podile, the filing of FIRs against Union minister Bandaru Dattatreya, compensation to Rohith’s mother and the revoking of the suspension of the remaining students.
The majority of students were by and large satisfied not just with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vocal solidarity with Rohith, but also with the series of measures taken at his behest. The PM directed the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD) to order a judicial probe, shift Vice Chancellor Appa Rao, pay a compensation of Rs 8 lakh to Rohith’s mother and lift the suspension on Rohith’s fellow students.
After realising the mood of the PM on the matter, the MHRD went to the extent of replacing the VC in-charge, Vipin Srivatsava with another in-charge, Prof Periasamy, who is acceptable to the students. Srivatsava was opposed by the students as he was a member of the panel that suspended Rohith.
Ever since Rahul Gandhi visited the campus on 19 January, Congress leaders have been actively associated with the stir. Congress’ leader in the Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge called on the agitating students and pledged to fight the issue in the Budget session of Parliament. He threatened to disrupt the session on this issue.
At the behest of Congress leaders from Delhi, Telangana Congress Committee (TPCC) president, Uttam Kumar Reddy, and working president M. Bhatti Vikramarka, called on Rohith’s mother Radhika on 25 January and handed her an amount of Rs 5 lakh on behalf of the party. TPCC leaders told the students not to stop the agitation until their demands were met fully.
Although no student group is willing to talk about the insistence from the Congress that the stir be continued for one more month to put pressure on the BJP in Parliament, some of them who spoke to this newspaper admitted that some of Rahul Gandhi’s aides were in touch with them to monitor the situation on campus. “Raju sir (Congress’ Scheduled Castes cell convener) is guiding us,” said a student leader on the condition of anonymity.
Other students’ unions affiliated to the Left parties, like SFI and AISF, and Dalit and Muslim outfits too are of the view that the present agitation should not be allowed to die down so soon, as it had given them an opportunity to launch a nationwide protest against the BJP. Small delegations of students from the left-leaning Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi and other universities from Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra are camping here.
However, a majority of the general category students, who are not affiliated to any political party or students unions, want the early resumption of classes and academic activity. Around 4,000 of the 5,200 students of UoH belong to science streams and these students want normalcy on campus.
The entire administrative and academic activity in UoH has come to a standstill since the tragic death of Rohith on 17 January night, and the main grounds of the university have become a hub of protests by different social groups from all over the country. Classes have been cancelled, laboratories and libraries shut and the administration block has been locked.
These general category students made an appeal to the agitating Joint Action Committee (JAC) for Social Justice on Thursday that classes should be allowed to run and library and laboratories should be opened so that they can complete their semester work on time, by March end. As many as 300 students signed this appeal. These students say that almost all the major demands made by the other students have been met.
In fact, the measures taken have pacified a section of Dalit students too. But the hardliners are not ready to call off the stir, saying that their demands have been met only partially. “We have asked for a Rs 50 lakh compensation, while they gave just 25% of it. We demand the sacking of the VC in charge too as he was a member of the panel that punished Rohith,” JAC member Dr S. Sujatha told The Sunday Guardian.
The hardliners, in consultation with other unions from JNU and Delhi University, are planning to sustain the stir until the Budget session of Parliament. They are planning to lead a delegation to President Pranab Mukherjee in the first week of February and do a sit-in and relay hunger strike in Delhi in the second week of February. They are planning a Dalit MPs’ meet on the issue in Delhi before the Budget session.
The students are also divided on appearing before the retired Allahabad High Court judge Ashok Kumar Roopanwal, who has been appointed as a one-man commission by the MHRD to probe the death of Rohith. “We are not yet decided on appearing before the commission. We will take a stand soon,” JAC leader Prasad Rao told this newspaper.