Hyderabad/New Delhi: The suicide by a dalit student of Hyderabad University on Tuesday snowballed into a major issue with BJP's rivals wading into it and demanding the removal of Union Ministers Smriti Irani and Bandaru Dattatreya, accusing them of being responsible for the death.
As Congress mounted the demand for the sacking of the HRD and Labour Ministers, Rahul Gandhi led the multi-party charge attacking them and the Vice Chancellor Appa Rao saying "The VC and the Union Ministers in Delhi have not acted fairly.
This youngster was put in so much pain that he had no option but to kill himself."
Though he did not name Irani, who had just over the week attacked Rahul in his constituency Amethi of failing youths there, the reference was obvious to her against the backdrop of ministry's action which is blamed for the suicide by Rohith Vemula, a dalit research scholar, on Sunday night.
Protests escalated in Hyderabad and cities across the country including in Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Chennai. Student organisations including the pro-Left AISA and AAP-backed CYSS and Congress' NSUI held protests in Jantar Mantar and the HRD ministry in the capital demanding the sacking of the ministers and strong action against the VC.
Various political parties and leaders have blamed Labour Minister Dattatreya's letter of Aug 17 last year to Irani seeking action against the "anti national activities" of a students union and the alleged assault of an ABVP leader and a series of five communications from the HRD Ministry between Sept 3 and Nov 19 demanding follow up action for the suicide.
The HRD ministry, however, today rejected allegations that it had put any pressure on the University relating to either suspension of Rohith or keeping him out of the hostel.
The communications, it maintained, was not aimed at putting pressure but was in compliance with the standard protocol adopted in accordance with the Central Secretariat Manual of Procedure whenever a "VIP Reference" is received.
Ministry officials said the two-member committee of HRD officials have met people concerned in Hyderabad today and their fact-finding report is expected to be ready after their return tomorrow.
After the high-profile visit of Rahul to the campus, Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi also went there and asked why Prime Minister Narendra Modi was not saying sorry over the incident.
"It does not need even 140 characters," he said in an apparent reference to the Prime Minister's penchant for tweeting on issues. He alleged that there has been social discrimination that had led to the suicide.
Gandhi flew into Hyderabad from Delhi in the morning and drove straight from the airport to the University campus where he addressed the agitating students.
He alleged that the institution instead of operating fairly has used its power to "crush" the freedom of students to express.
"The Vice Chancellor and the Minister in Delhi have have not acted fairly. What is the result. The result is that the youth, who came here to improve the country, to learn and to express himself was put in so much pain that he had no option but to kill himself.
"Certainly he has committed suicide but conditions for his suicide were created by the Vice Chancellor, the minister and the institution," he told the students, one of whom said before his speech that they did not want any politicising of the issue.
He demanded "strictest punishment" for Vice-Chancellor and the minister holding them "responsible" for the death of the research scholar.
After meeting the students, Gandhi upped the ante against Irani and Dattatreya and the Vice Chancellor, by observing in a tweet: The VC and Union Ministers in Delhi have not acted fairly. This youngster was put in so much pain that he had no option but to kill himself."
Union Labour Minister Dattatreya and Hyderabad University Vice Chancellor Appa Rao and three others were yesterday named in an FIR lodged with the Cyberabad police over the alleged suicide of the dalit student.
The Congress Vice President said there is "no question of the Vice Chancellor remaining" on merit and criticised him severely for not even meeting the mother of the deceased.
"There are certain people responsible for it. Vice Chancellor is among them. The minister is among them," Gandhi said insisting that whoever is responsible for this outcome has to be punished in strictest terms.
In a series of other tweets, Gandhi said, "Any student can come to the University- whether he belongs to any caste or religion. He should feel that I can say what I want to say.
The idea of a University is that young people can come and share their thoughts."
"These students were protesting against the unjust expulsion and social boycott of Dalit students on campus.
Met students of the Ambedkar Students Association, Hyderabad University," he said in the other tweets.
Earlier, accompanied by senior Telangana Congress leaders, Gandhi paid tributes to Vemula by garlanding a memorial "stupa" put up in the university. He also spent some time with family members of Vemula and consoled them.
On its part, the BJP accused Gandhi of politicising and insisted that it had nothing to do with the victim being from the depressed community.
Party general secretary P Muralidhar Rao, who hails from Telangana, accused Gandhi of "unprincipled" behaviour, saying that the same Congress which had "harassed" dalit icon BR Ambedkar "all his life" was now trying to project itself as champion of Dalit cause.
He alleged that Hyderabad student Rohith Vemula's suicide has been made into political issue by "Congress, section of media and some groups with vested interests".
In a series of tweets, he said, "Suicide of Rohith Vemula has nothing to do with dalit issues or rights just because he was a dalit. It is merely politicising of the issue."
"Disciplinary action was taken against Rohith on the advice of the court and even a lenient stand was taken by University authorities by permitting him to enter the campus except the hostel," he said.
"Rahul Gandhi's hurried visit to Hyderabad is an unprincipled behaviour and it is unfortunate that a national political party stoops to such levels.
Student leaders, who explained the situation in the university to Rahul, demanded that punishment be handed out to Dattatreya, Vice-Chancellor Appa Rao, and a university official for the alleged suicide of Rohith.
The VC should be removed from his post and Rs five crore compensation given to the family of Rohith, they said.
They also demanded that the "false case" filed against the students be withdrawn and the suspension be revoked.
Meanwhile, Hyderabad MP and AIMIM President Asaduddin Owaisi, who expressed solidarity with the protesting students, told reporters that the Prime Minister should take note of the incident and initiate action against the minister and also the Vice-Chancellor.
"Prime Minister says 'India first' and Constitution is the book for him. We hope that the Prime Minister of India takes note of this and takes action, removes the Vice Chancellor, the minister and also takes back the rustication of the students. The government, whether it is Telangana, Andhra Pradesh or the Union should provide help, employment to the family," he said.
"What was the need for a minister to intervene in the university affairs (by writing a letter to Union HRD Ministry)," Owaisi asked.
The VC should be removed from his post and arrested, he added.