Mellower Irani defends govt on JNU, Vemula suicide

After her shrill and acerbic speech while replying to a discussion on the suicide of Dalit student Rohith Vemula and the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) row in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday, Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani was markedly even-tempered on Thursday when replying to a discussion in the Rajya Sabha.

Irani started by thanking her colleagues, including those from the Opposition parties, to have "rightly" advised her to be calmer. She, however, marshaled her arguments with finesse to defend the government's actions in both incidents - in the aftermath of the suicide of Vemula in the Hyderabad Central University and the JNU issue.

Her reply was cut short when Opposition members objected to her comments that students at JNU had published derogatory pamphlets about Goddess Durga and worshipped Mahishasura. Irani, who had read out the contents of the pamphlets in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday, repeated those on Thursday.

Congress leader Anand Sharma said the minister was setting a dangerous precedent. "Every religious leader and deity has been derogatorily referred by some persons. Will all this be discussed here? Can we allow it here? Then there will be a war in the House," Sharma said. When Irani persisted and the chair expressed his helplessness in the matter, the Opposition members continued to protest and the House was adjourned for the day.

Irani quoted from Macbeth, Vemula's letters and other letters to make her point that she was being targeted in the controversy and how the Communist Party of India (Marxist) was guilty of discriminating against Dalits.

Earlier in the day, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley asked whether sedition and breaking the country into pieces can be called "free speech". The minister also taunted the Opposition attacking the government over the Patiala House court complex incidents, in which lawyers attacked journalists, teachers, students and JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar. "What happened in courts is condemnable," he said, and added after a pause, with sarcasm, "vandalism is condemnable but sedition is free speech."

Initiating the debate in the morning, CPI(M) chief Sitaram Yechury slammed the government for trying to suppress dissent and impose their idea of a "theocratic, fascistic Hindu Rashtra". He sought the setting up of a House panel to examine the latest developments.

Yechury, an alumnus of JNU, said Home Minister Rajnath Singh used "a parody tweet" of terrorist Hafiz Saeed to attack JNU students. On the government's plans to hoist national flags in all universities, he said: "The Tricolour in our heart is much larger than any national flag... we don't want certificates of patriotism from those who killed Mahatma Gandhi."

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