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Opposition 'terror-struck', Rahul opts out

Published On : 25 Feb 2016

New Delhi,(The Telegraph): The government today placed Afzal Guru at the centre of the JNU debate to browbeat the Opposition and shrugged off embarrassment by pushing concerns over Rohith Vemula's suicide and Kanhaiya Kumar's arrest to the margins.

Anurag Thakur, the BJP's first speaker in the Lok Sabha, chose not to even mention Rohith, the Dalit PhD scholar who hanged himself at the University of Hyderabad. He built his arguments on the soldier-traitor theme, asking parliamentarians to answer whether they were with nationalists or terrorists.

Amid cheering and thumping of desks in the treasury benches, the BJP leader said: "Who was Afzal Guru - a martyr or a terrorist? Who are you with - nationalists or terrorists? Do you want more attacks on Parliament? We won't allow traitors to flourish, won't allow India's disintegration."

The combative Opposition appeared to turn defensive almost instantly. It was forgotten that the attack on Parliament happened when the BJP was in power and Afzal Guru was hanged when the Congress ruled the Centre.

Thakur recalled the slogans raised at JNU calling for India's disintegration and said: "We want to know which part of disintegrated India Rahul wants to rule. Rahul was standing with those who threatened to destroy India, with those who supported Afzal Guru who attacked Parliament. You are with Gandhi or Maoists?"

The jingoistic rhetoric rattled the Congress. Rahul, who was supposed to speak, mysteriously opted out. Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge loudly protested against the ploy to defame his party, pointing out that no one had supported any anti-national slogans. But the government had already bulldozed the Opposition.

Congress speaker Jyotiraditya Scindia's charges were lost in the storm of passions.

The Opposition could not match the brute force unleashed by the government. When someone from the Congress asked if JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar was not innocent when Venkaiah Naidu was speaking, the senior minister retorted: "Who is innocent... Afzal Guru, Maqbool Bhat, Yakub Memon are innocent?"

Kanhaiya was forgotten as Naidu rattled away names of soldiers who had died defending Parliament and appealed to everybody to stand with nationalist forces. He referred to Rohith only to argue that suicides by students from deprived sections had been happening for long. Campuses are for academic activities, not politics, holding beef parties or commemorating Afzal Guru and Yakub Memon.

Before human resource development minister Smriti Irani got up to reply, the rivals had already been vanquished.

Smriti, who demonstrated her powerful oratory and histrionics, skirted the reasons that drove Rohith to suicide and instead accused the Opposition of politicising the tragedy. "A child's body was used as a political tool," she said, singling out Rahul Gandhi who had left the House in the evening when BJP members booed him.

Arguing that the slogans raised at JNU were intolerable, the minister appeared to defend the police crackdown on the university that has a culture of free debate and discussions. "Help me build this nation, not destroy it from within," she cried.

Home minister Rajnath Singh, who wrapped up the debate, said Irani's exceptional speech should be an eye-opener for the country. He denied that the government considered the JNU to be a den of anti-nationals. "It is a centre of excellence and produced very talented people," he said. But he defended the police action saying: "There is a limit to the freedom of expression...."

Photo credit: The Telegraph

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