Smriti, your act is indefensible

Smriti, your act is indefensible

Days after Union Human Resources Minister Smriti Irani made an impassioned defence of her government’s handling of the issues that led to Rohith Vemula’s suicide and the police action against JNU students, the speech has not stopped its bad ring. A privilege move has been brought against her for the obvious inaccuracies that she flaunted to defend the government’s and her own positions and actions. She was involved in the course of events that led to the suicide of Vemula and so had a personal need to defend herself too. The need to defend indefensible positions may have led to the highly emotional and histrionic pitches that she made. In fact, she was more attacking than defending, as that is the best form of defence. It saw a low point of debate in Parliament, with gestures, expressions, shrillness of tone and hysteria, more than cogent arguments, being used to convey a message.

Some facts that she put forward were wrong. She wrongly claimed that no doctor was allowed to check Vemula’s body. Her comments on Durga also invited criticism and she wrongly claimed that the documents she referred to were authenticated by JNU. Some other claims and statements about the Hyderabad and JNU incidents were also wrong. Vemula’s mother and others, not just opposition parties, have said that they are fabricated. Even after it came to light that some statements were wrong she has arrogantly stuck by them. Parliament is a forum where members are not expected to say falsehood. Misrepresentations and distortions question the sanctity of Parliament. No member should be allowed to get away with such disrespect. The minister invoked motherhood when talking about students, but did not spare JNU students who were “anti-national”. She brought up Cicero from the ancient Roman world to make the point that the traitor within was more dangerous than the enemy at the gate. Traitors, murderers, anti-nationals… dissenters cannot get more hateful labels in a democratic society.

If such words and performances reflect an attitude to democracy and its high forums, they spell danger. They are again manifestations of the readiness seen recently to brand those who have different views as enemies. It is unfortunate that Prime Minister Narendra Modi endorsed Smriti Irani’s speech with the expression satyameva jayate. The minister badly vitiated the national discourse with her speech, and when she is the face of the government and the party, it can only invite mistrust and opprobrium.

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