Why So Furious, Smriti Irani?

Published: February 26, 2016 23:32 IST
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The very learned and upright Kiran Bedi has waxed eloquent on HRD Minister Smriti Irani's fast and furious act in Parliament over the twin issues of the JNU controversy and Rohith Vemula's suicide. Ms Bedi feels the HRD Minister's defence was historic as it left "All the Men and a Few Women speechless".

Of course, Ms Bedi has every right to be "mesmerised" and floored by her party colleague's theatrical performance on the floor of the House, but here are some issues that must be underlined.

ALL LETTER, NO SPIRIT

"She backed every clarification with systematic evidence, which I relished most as a former cop," Ms Bedi tells. Yes, Ms Irani doled out letter after letter from various MPs from opposition parties to try and prove the point that she didn't show any undue interest in the affairs of the Hyderabad Central University prompted by some communications from her cabinet colleague Bandaru Dattatreya. What Ms Bedi and Ms Irani both have glossed over is the contents of letters written by various public representatives and Mr Dattatreya. While others wrote about issues at various universities, including corruption, flouting of norms, issues of appointments and admission, Mr Dattatreya's was a direct intervention on behalf of one students' group against the other. Others in their communications to the HRD Minister did not brand a set of students as "anti-nationals" just because they came from a different ideological pool.

Mr Dattatreya did.

Ms Irani took pains to read out letters from MPs such as Hanumanthappa Rao, Narayansamy, Asaduddin Owaisi, and the responses from her ministry to flaunt her non-partisan approach. Very well, but why not a word of indignation about the "anti-national" label for students of Ambedkar Students Association by her cabinet colleague?

Ms Irani also dug out Rohith Vemula's Facebook posts on CPM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury and the Left students union, the SFI, and read them out loud in Rajya Sabha with much flair. But can we ask how does what Rohith thought of Mr Yechury matter in this case? Yes, Rohith was anti CPI/CPM, but did any of the Left leaders write to the honourable minister labelling Rohith and his friends anti-nationals?

And, if she were honest in her case, why did she not mention the deeply moving and agonising letter that Rohith wrote to the Vice Chancellor of his university days before his suicide, where he asked the "discriminating" Vice Chancellor to give Dalit students like him "poison or long rope" to end their ordeal?

Will Ms Bedi, since she revels in proof being a former cop, ask Ms Irani if she has asked the Vice Chancellor about this letter and what did he do to console Rohith or why did he, being the guardian of students on campus, not see that letter as a warning sign? Why has Smriti Irani not sacked the Vice Chancellor and asked a few questions of his cabinet colleague and other local BJP leaders involved?

Also, I think Ms Bedi in her hurrah moment missed what the university medical officer had to say on Ms Irani's assertions that Rohith was left to die by his friends and comrades. Refuting Ms Irani's statement in Parliament that no doctor was allowed to examine Rohith Vemula's body until the morning after he died, the University of Hyderabad chief medical officer (CMO) Rajashree M said she had rushed to the hostel room as soon as she got a call about a medical emergency, but Rohith was dead by the time she reached.

GODS AND DEMONS

"She laid out para by para why our children have grown up doubting India's rich heritage and its legends and asked why are they not proud of their lineage," Ms Bedi contends. A short answer is that real academic knowledge is not a linear pursuit. But what did Ms Irani do? She dug out some students' views on "Mahishasur", the demon king slayed by Goddess Durga, and concluded that they were nothing but the product of depraved minds.

While Ms Irani, with her characteristic flourish, sought her God's pardon for even reading these students' views on Mahishasur, will she clarify if she is going to erase all alternative readings of History and Mythology from university spaces? Ms Bedi will be helping the cause of the country if she advises the minister to not think of the sarkaari view as the mainstream view, or push a linear, totalitarian narrative down students throats.

Does Ms Irani also seeks her God's forgiveness every time she visits Mysore, which gets its name from the demon king Mahishasur? Or are we take the whole of Mysore as the city of depravity?

What will she say of people in this very country who worship the biggest villain of Hindu mythology, Ravana, on the same day when the "mainstream" Hindus celebrate their tallest hero, Ram? Ms Irani, India is a kaleidoscope of multiple narratives, all sorts of views, which have managed to co-exist with all its diversity.

Also sticking to her ideas of what is mainstream and what is not, shall we ask Ms Irani if she is going to berate in the same fashion the book by RSS that is going to be re-issued in March which claims that Jesus was a Tamil Hindu? Is that not an alternate view coming from a very "mainstream" organisation?

What Ms Irani has attempted to do over the last two days is institutionalise a very Brahmanical, Upper Caste, Sangh narrative of Indian culture and its reading. Ms Bedi, those who carve out an alternate narrative are not "infidels". Don't tear down an open and exhaustive way of questioning and living life to level of monotheistic, institutionalised faiths with a one-way entry and etched-in-stone labels of "faithfuls" and "infidels".

THE AMETHI ALIBI

No one can disagree with Ms Bedi on the fact that Smriti Irani is a very strong woman and sexist slurs are abominable. True that she has come under attack from gender insensitive quarters on many occasions and those should be shouted down. But what is also true is the fact that questions to the HRD Minister cannot be diluted or sugarcoated just because she is a woman. Tough questions will be asked of her on issues relating to her ministry.

Unfortunately, Ms Irani herself revels in the victimhood narrative. She needlessly got needled by a reference to "dushkaram" by the Congress' Jyotiraditya Scindia in Lok Sabha saying that "dushkaram" translates to "rape" when spoken with reference to a woman. Now, that's very Don Quixotic.

Then she asked the Congress benches in a fit of rage if she is being targeted for contesting against Rahul Gandhi in Amethi. "Amethi ladne ki ye saza denge mujhe," she shouted. That's a bit much. Ms Irani needs to outgrow her Amethi obsession for as long as she is the HRD Minister. Or does she want her contesting against Rahul Gandhi to be her claim to fame all her life?

VISION, DIVISION OR TELEVISION?

Ms Bedi is right in saying the HRD Ministry is all about the vision for the future. But for that, the government needs to see students as students, not as ASA, SFI, AISF, NSUI or ABVP. Students need to be given free spaces to articulate and debate ideas without fear or favour. You can't encourage students to view each other with suspicion and label those ideologically different as anti-nationals. Ms Bedi, being a former cop, can be expected to advocate a regimented nationalism where the national flag becomes a stick to beat the "other" with.

The height of flag can never be a measure of how deep-rooted the idea of nationalism is.

May we ask doesn't Ms Irani feel concerned when the President of Delhi University Student Union says "I will shoot them inside JNU myself". Or the "khoon se holi khelenge" slogans of the ABVP?

The kind of regimented nationalism that is gaining currency in the corridors of powers is very dangerous. Please stop parading a pungent and partisan ideology as patriotism. It will only produce clones of Vikram Singh Chauhan in the name of patriotism who will sully the idea of nationalism by their nauseating goondaism.

Ms Irani's dramatic performance in Parliament was made for Television. It was a blur on the Vision of our future and certainly reeked of an agenda of Division.

(Mohd Asim is Senior News Editor, NDTV 24x7)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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