JNU row, Rohith Vemula's suicide: Decoding HRD Minister Smriti Irani’s speech in Lok Sabha
Just before the Budget Session of Parliament, it was reported in the media, though not officially confirmed, that Prime Minister Narendra Modi wanted his party colleagues to go all out and be aggressive on the JNU row and the Afzal Guru controversy. And, we saw just that from various BJP lawmakers like Anurag Thakur and Venkaiah Naidu who sought to make the debate into one of nationalism versus anti-nationals.
However, it was the firebrand HRD Minister Smriti Irani who stole the show in Lok Sabha and became the talking point. Her speech was debated in TV studios and became one of the top trends on social media. It also impressed PM Modi so much so that he tweeted a link of the speech and asked people to listen to it.
There is no doubt that for someone who is just a little over a decade old in politics, Irani exudes tremendous amount of confidence and has a ready rejoinder to the barbs thrown at her by her opponents. And that is what was at display in Parliament, especially in Lok Sabha where she sought to turn the tables on the Opposition and hammered home the point that Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi was a political opportunist who, if given a chance, would even align with so-called anti-nationals.
What struck many was the fact that like a good show, the young minister’s speech was laced with both emotion and aggression. Her eyes welled up with tears when talking about the suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula where she talked about herself being a mother, but the next moment she thundered with anger and challenged anyone to prove that she was guilty of saffronisation of education.
Irani also countered the Opposition charge that she failed in performing her duty and took a dig at Congress, saying that they were taking revenge from her for contesting against Rahul in 2014 General Elections. Perhaps, she went a little overboard with the theatrics and sounded dramatic when she said ‘my name is Smriti Irani and I challenge you to tell my caste’, but in a nutshell there is no doubt that she stood her ground with her oratorical skills and by summoning the right materials and papers.
However, the flip side is that Irani banked on emotions and aggression to circumvent certain matters that the BJP is not very comfortable answering. For example, the minister did not touch upon BJP’s alliance with the PDP in Jammu and Kashmir with the latter’s view not really in sync with the former on Afzal Guru. Also, having sort of won the battle in the Lok Sabha, it was a different ball game in the Rajya Sabha for Irani. The Upper House saw huge uproar over her comments on the ‘Mahishasur Martyrdom Day’ being celebrated in JNU with the Opposition accusing the HRD Minister of trying to play communal politics. And BSP chief Mayawati did not let go of the chance to corner Irani by pointing out anomalies in her speech and accusing of BJP of being anti-Dalit.
Not only this, Vemula’s family and friends called the minister's speech in Parliament about the events surrounding the Dalit scholar’s death as a bunch of lies. And her assertions that no doctor was allowed to attend to Vemula for hours and hours, were also refuted by a university physician. To clear the air, Irani needs to tell the nation as to what her facts were based on, otherwise she will be accused of misleading the House.
The HRD Minister is not new to controversies and in the short span that she has occupied the office she has weathered many storms – like the allegations of intervention in IIT appointments and accusations of appointments at various educational bodies of those sympathetic to ‘Hindutava agenda’. She was also attacked by the Opposition for allegedly giving wrong facts about her educational qualifications.
However, every time she gave it back to those criticising her in her own style and it’s likely that Irani may wriggle out of this one too. Yet, she has to be careful because people see through half-truths and lies, if any. But as of now, the HRD Minister to a large extent was successful in fulfilling her party’s agenda of playing on the nationalistic sentiments in the Lok Sabha and emphatically driving home the point to her opponents by stating - “I am not certifying your patriotism, but don’t demean mine. I am not certifying your idea of India, but don’t demean mine.”