Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to reach out to the family of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit PhD scholar with University of Hyderabad (UoH) who committed suicide on 17 January, by overruling the Bharatiya Janata Party’s initial tough stance on the incidents leading to the tragedy. The PM’s heartfelt empathy and condolences to Rohith came after he was in possession of the full facts that culminated in the suicide. PM Modi decided to put aside the narrow political considerations over Rohith’s suicide, which moved the entire nation in the last one week. The PM was also concerned at the way the UoH dealt with the suicide, as well as the sequence of events that preceded the tragedy over the last few months, according to sources in the know of things, including within the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD).
The PM is understood to have asked how the university administration acted against only one section of the rival groups. This obvious tilt prompted Rohith to take the extreme step. The PM’s view on the suicide runs against the BJP’s initial stand on the issue. The earlier line was that its affiliate, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), was under a one-sided and violent attack from its rival group, Rohith’s Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA).
The PM gathered facts on the UoH developments through three sources: first, a report from the MHRD, the second one from the Intelligence Bureau (IB), and the third from the Telangana government. All reports found fault with the way the university administration allowed the situation on the campus to worsen and failed to tackle a simple students’ dispute on time.
As a result of the PM’s deep concern over the entire matter, especially the suicide of a promising student, the MHRD announced a judicial probe, which would give its report in three months, and a compensation of Rs 8 lakh to the mother of Rohith. The MHRD also assured action against the guilty whoever they may be. At the prodding of the Prime Minister’s Office, HRD Minister Smriti Irani called up and consoled Rohith’s mother Radhika on Friday night.
The humane approach of the PM is likely to douse passions within the UoH campus over the coming days and is expected to heal emotional wounds afflicted on the Dalit students’ community. In fact, the hard stand take by the local ABVP unit and BJP MLC Ramachandra Rao against ASA apparently made Union Minister Bandaru Dattatreya write letters to the MHRD, which led to the ministry sending reminders to the UoH.
The state of affairs at the UoH forced Rohith to commit suicide amidst signs of a combined opposition flexing its muscle to corner the Central government on the issue in Parliament’s Budget session, which is scheduled to begin in the last week of February. The Congress, the Left, the Trinamool Congress, The YSR Congress, Telanagan Rastra Samithi, the Aam Aadmi Party and the Republican Party of India have said that they will raise the issue in Parliament.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, AAP president and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, CPM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, CPI General Secretary Suravaram Sudhakar Reddy, Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien, YSR Congress president Jagan Mohan Reddy, RPI MP Ramdas Athawale, Tripuira Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, and delegations of Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party have called on the agitating students on the UoH campus, expressing their solidarity.
The focus of the Opposition leaders was on the sacking of the two Union ministers, Smriti Irani and Bandaru Dattatreya, as well as UoH Vice-Chancellor Podile Appa Rao, alleging that they forced Rohith to commit suicide. Dattatreya has already been named in the FIR filed in the Gachibowli police station as per a complaint lodged by Rohith’s family members.
PM Modi, while delivering his convocation address at Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University in Lucknow, made clear his dissatisfaction over the way the authorities of UoH had dealt with the students’ unrest on the campus over the last three months. “It is sad that Rohith, a brilliant student was forced into a weak situation where he had to commit suicide,” Modi said.
While appealing to political parties not to make the suicide a political issue, the Prime Minister asked everyone to understand the pain and anguish of Rohith’s mother and his family members. The PM described Rohith as a “valuable beloved youth of the country”. Thus the PM joined other top leaders in grieving the untimely death of Rohith.
The PM’s comments came hours after a two-member team of the MHRD submitted its report to the secretary in Delhi. The team members —OSD in the ministry, Shakeela Shamshu and joint secretary Surat Singh—have pointed at several lacunae in the argument of the UoH authorities in suspending Rohith and four other students, Prashanti, Seshaiah, Sunkanna and Vijay Kumar in November.
Sources in the UoH told The Sunday Guardian that the MHRD panel clearly found fault with the VC, Prof Podile Appa Rao who “was least bothered to deal with the agitating students since 15 December” to “find a solution to the whole issue”. The panel took copies of the minutes of the university executive council meetings where the Dalit students were suspended.
The panel members have also expressed their surprise over the authorities taking disciplinary action against only one section of the rival student groups. The authorities have completely sided with one section, while ignoring the viewpoint of the others, the panel is understood to have pointed out in its report.
Sources also said that MHRD secretary V.S. Oberai has briefed the Prime Minister on the panel’s findings and the issue was taken to the notice of the PM himself on Friday. Now that the PMO has indicated the PM’s dissatisfaction over the state of affairs in the UoH, the MHRD, besides announcing a judicial probe into the suicide is likely to initiate a series of measures to revamp the Central university.
The MHRD has taken note of the caste tensions on the campus of UoH over the years and the lack of any communication between the students and the top administration, except through disciplinary actions whenever an issue arises. The ministry is also likely to constitute a panel of experts before the Budget session to look into all the issues.
However, the fate of Union Minister Dattatreya appears uncertain as the Opposition is expected to go for his scalp in Parliament as he was named as an accused in the FIR and was booked under IPC Section 306 (aiding and abetting suicide). His two letters that termed the Dalit students as anti-nationals are stated to be the reason behind Rohith’s plight, the agitators allege.
The TRS government in Telangana is unlikely to let off Dattatreya at a time when elections to the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation are slated to be held on 2 February. As the MHRD too has ordered a judicial probe, it might be difficult to remove his name from the FIR before Parliament’s Budget session starts.