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Smriti puts head where heart(land) is- Significance of sound and fury

Published On : 25 Feb 2016

New Delhi, (The Telegraph): Smriti Irani played to the Sangh gallery in Parliament today with her "nationalism" pitch, but lurking beneath the lines appeared to be the human resource development minister's political ambition.

Her choice of targets for attack - Rahul Gandhi and Mayawati - held a clue.

As she defended the police action on Jawaharlal Nehru University, Smriti spared no chance at reinforcing the BJP's Hindutva themes, concluding her address with lines from Atal Bihari Vajpayee that evoked the images of Ganga, Shiva and Bharat Mata.

Smriti, a former television actor, is a lateral entrant to the BJP and survived a baptism of fire. She hit out at Narendra Modi fairly early in her innings as a politician, threatening to fast indefinitely if he did not resign as Gujarat chief minister after the 2002 riots. She forsook the plan soon after and on L.K. Advani's intervention, made up with Modi and then earned his trust.

In 2014, it suited Modi to nurture Smriti as a counter to Sushma Swaraj, who was then his bugbear and who had for years held the top slot in the BJP's line-up of women leaders.

Having established herself as second to none on that list, Smriti's nearly 50-minute speech today was aimed not merely at her party or the RSS or Parliament. When she told Rahul Gandhi he was "crucifying" her for daring to contest against him in Amethi in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, she had Uttar Pradesh on her radar.

The state will go to the polls early next year.

Early in the day, she took on Mayawati in the Rajya Sabha after the BSP leader insisted that the Centre include a Dalit in the probe panel tasked to investigate the suicide of Dalit PhD scholar Rohith Vemula at the University of Hyderabad.

Few, if any, dare to challenge Mayawati for fear of upsetting the country's larger Dalit constituency that identifies with her politics of empowerment and her symbolic value as a Scheduled Caste woman who has made it to the top on her own. When Mayawati speaks or argues, the House usually falls into silence.

Smriti, who later dared the Lok Sabha to name the caste she belongs to, threw a line at Mayawati that even the scriptwriter of Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi - the TV serial that put her on the national map - might not have come up with. "I will sever my head and place it on your feet," she said in Hindi.

It is another matter that she made no impact on the unflappable Mayawati, focussed only on protecting her Dalit votes from being poached by the Congress that has campaigned hard on Rohith's suicide.

Smriti's father is a Punjabi and her mother a Bengali.

Aware that the "Dalit card" was a tricky one to deploy against the BSP, the minister delved into the well springs of emotion to hold forth on Rohith's suicide that the BJP has found extremely hard to live down. The student hanged himself weeks after being suspended by the university, which was prodded to act by the Union HRD ministry on the basis of a BJP MP's complaint.

Today, Smriti described Rohith as a child who was neglected by the TRS government in Telangana and used by the Opposition as a "political weapon".

She tore into the Congress vice-president, who she projects as her direct political rival. "Have you ever seen Rahul visit a spot a second time? Did he ever visit Telangana after 600 students died in the agitation for a separate state?" she asked, darting looks of anguish and anger at the near-empty Congress benches.

Smriti, who lost to Rahul in Amethi, has been nursing the constituency more assiduously than him with frequent visits, marked by a shower of bounty from the Centre.

In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP has a leadership vacuum. If Smriti is projected as the party's chief ministerial candidate, it might introduce a new and uncertain element to the state's political scenario.

Photo credit: The Telegraph

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