New Delhi: The Congress on Thursday said that human resource development minister Smriti Irani should be sacked immediately for her "three lies" and her defence of the Hyderabad Central University's "anti-Dalit" decisions.
"She lied to the nation, manufactured non-existent facts and misstated the complete set of events, purely with a view to defending the illegal intervention by her ministerial colleague Bandaru Dattatreya and the five unjustified (letters to the university from) her ministry," party communications chief Randeep Surjewala said.
He listed what he said was Irani's "three major lies".
"First, she said the decision of the proctorial board, which (initially) found that the five PhD Dalit scholars were not guilty, was ex-parte (that is, it took into consideration only one side's account)," he said.
"It is a white lie: the proctorial board had actually examined the only eyewitness, Daleep Singh ---- the security officer ---- and Dr Anupama Rao, who had examined the ABVP president (whom the Dalit scholars were accused of attacking). It was only 15 days thereafter that under pressure from (Irani's) ministry and the VC, the decision was reversed (and punishments handed out)."
According to Surjewala, the second lie "was that the sub-committee of the executive council, which took this decision (to suspend the scholars), was headed by a Dalit professor".
He cited the denial of this claim by the university's Dalit and tribal teachers. The "third lie", he said, involved Irani's highlighting of the purported role of the chief hostel warden in the suspensions.
Irani had told reporters: "In every sense and at every level, the university has made sure that because it involves a Dalit student, the sensitivity has to be appreciated and where the presence of a Dalit professor was required, a warden was required, they have been brought in."
"Does she not know that the warden was only implementing the decision of the executive council?" Surjewala said, echoing a point made by some of the university's Dalit teachers who have quit their administrative posts protesting Irani's "fabricated" statements.
"Why is she trying to defend the patently anti-Dalit decision taken by the vice-chancellor and university authorities?"
Surjewala wanted to know from Irani whether she thought the quantum and nature of punishments, handed to the Dalit scholars for a quarrel with an ABVP leader, were justified.
"Does the HRD minister, like her colleague Dattatreya, feel that anyone who does not agree with the opinion of the BJP or ABVP activists is anti-national?" he asked.
"Yesterday, she invoked the caste of various professors. Does she now propose to divide professors on caste lines?"
Surjewala justified the Congress's sudden leap from a demand for an inquiry to a call for sacking Irani.
He said a fair inquiry was impossible after Irani's clean chit to the university authorities and defence of its decisions. He said a high court should be appointed to probe the matter after Irani is removed from the ministry.
Surjewala added that today's "belated decision" to revoke the suspensions of four of Rohith's peers "proves the guilt, complicity and collusion of the BJP, (Sangh student arm) ABVP and university authorities in perpetuating an anti-poor and anti-Dalit agenda on the campus".
"Had this decision been taken prior to January 17, Rohith would have been alive today. Regrettably, only yesterday, vice-chancellor Appa Rao publicly justified the suspension and defended the ministry."
He cited how "Irani too justified the suspension and brushed aside the overwhelming evidence against ABVP activists".
"She went to the extent of rejecting the contents of Rohith's letter (to the VC) dated December 18, 2015, pointing out systematic persecution and humiliation of Dalit students," Surjewala told reporters.
He asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to apologise to the nation for his ministers' allegedly anti-Dalit conduct.
The Congress plans to exploit the controversy during the upcoming elections in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, where Dalit votes can be crucial. The party has called a seminar tomorrow on the "era of intolerance and atrocities on Dalits".