'Bandaru Dattatreya shouldn't have blindly accepted what the ABVP told him.'
Dr Sanjay Paswan, former BJP MP and member of the party's national executive, left, below, tells Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com that Dattatreya, the Union minister of state for labour and employment, mishandled the Rohith Vemula case.
You have tweeted that 'the stake holders of power politics must take serious note of the Rohit Vemula episode or be ready to face wrath, revenge, revolt, reactions.' What kind of revenge/reaction are you talking about?
(I was referring to) Political revolt and political reaction.
You also talked about revenge. What revenge do you mean?
The people there voted for the TRS (Telangana Rashtra Samithi) into power.
You were suggesting political revenge, not violence?
From the Dalits of India?
Be it the youth, the students or the Dalits, professors or bureaucrats, everybody is protesting (against Rohith Vemula's suicide).
There are reports of students across the country protesting against the injustice to Rohith Vemula. Do you think in the days to come these protests will spread?
It is because of this that I have requested the prime minister to take steps so that this issue doesn't boil further.
What was the PM's reaction?
I have only pleaded this yesterday (January 20) and only yesterday the honourable minister (Smriti Irani, the Union HRD minister) made a statement about it. I think that the PM too should intervene.
Do you think the PM will intervene?
I have pleaded with him. Let us see what happens next.
Do you think the Dalits of India are facing a painful time because of this suicide?
The Dalits have come together to protest against the way Rohith laid down his life. That has brought them on a single platform and they will not allow his sacrifice to go waste.
Are you saying that he was a martyr?
While the Dalits have been facing atrocities for many years now, do you think such acts have increased considerably after the BJP came to power in May 2014?
I don't think any political party is responsible for their plight. I think the Dalit leadership is responsible for the condition of the Dalits today.
Instead of leaders, we have Dalit 'dealers' today. And so I would not blame any political party, but the political leadership of the Dalits.
Do you think it is wrong to colour Rohith's suicide as a Dalit versus non-Dalit issue? Or is there a Dalit angle to it?
There is definitely a Dalit angle to it. Dalits are a marginalised community in India and hence they need special protection.
Scheduled castes and scheduled tribes are Constitutional entities which needs special protection. But then we also have a gender issue in India today, not just a Dalit issue.
Do you think the system that we are part of is designed to discriminate against Dalits?
As much as successive governments are responsible, the Dalits too are responsible for their condition. There are dealers who deal in the progress of Dalits.
There are requests that the prime minister should speak out on this issue. Do you think the PM will address the nation on this issue?
All political parties should introspect about such a sad state of Dalits in India. We should review it.
Do you not think that Bandaru Dattatreya shouldn't have intervened in the case? Also, the Union HRD ministry?
It is very sad to label an act of indiscipline as anti-national.
It all started with a letter written by the ABVP office-bearer, which is a BJP affiliate, who first dubbed Rohith Vemula's activities in the campus as anti-national and from there the labour minister as well as the HRD ministry followed suit.
That is the responsibility of the local MP and local leaders. Student leaders -- be they from the ABVP or SFI (Students Federation of India) -- are naive and nascent. They don't much understand the implications of their actions. We can't actually blame them.
Should Bandaru Dattatreya have asked the HRD ministry to write successive letters to the VC of Hyderabad Central University seeking information when the preliminary committee appointed by the university had given a clean chit to the five students?
There are many student issues that arise in college or university. But it is the job of the local MLA or MP to solve them at the local level.
But Bandaru Dattatreya is the local MP...
Yes, the local MP mishandled the issue.
Should he then resign by accepting moral responsibility?
I don't know if he should own up, but he shouldn't have blindly accepted what the ABVP president told him.
Was there pressure on Vice-Chancellor Appa Rao from the labour minister and the HRD ministry to take action against Rohith Vemula?
Absolutely, there was pressure from them.
Did you put this across to the PM?
Yes, I am trying that. Efforts are on. I have just started tweeting about it and let us see what happens.
So you have not met the PM personally?
I have not met him yet, but I assume he must be reading my tweets.
You too have done your doctorate in social science. Could you tell us as a Dalit what kind of discrimination you faced while completing your doctorate?
I can empathise with Rohith Vemula. I faced such discrimination so many times (as a PhD student).
How did you face it then?
That was a different time.
But have times changed? You faced discrimination then and now Rohith Vemula apparently faced the same attitude.
I can understand the tremendous pressure he must have faced.
As a Dalit student when you faced discrimination, did you ever contemplate suicide?
Discrimination did happen, but we were not that (sort to commit suicide). We faced it (discrimination) regularly.
How would you feel at such times?
I have understood Rohith's pain. I have understood Rohith's pain. We too faced so many insults in the '80s and '90s and what we have seen, felt and encountered then made us strive for Dalits so that they will not have to go through the same experience today.
What are you doing to change these Dalit 'dealers' into 'leaders'? You call yourself a Dalit leader.
We too are dealers and are now in the process of changing ourselves into leaders.
You are being very honest in calling yourself a 'dealer'.
I too was a dealer of a political party.
You are saying you are a dealer of the BJP?
Yes, and now I want to become a leader.
Are you going to plead your case with Amit Shah, who will be re-elected as the BJP's national president? You are a member of the BJP's national executive.
Avashya karenge (Definitely, I will ask). I will ask him to intervene in the case and make a statement.
Don't you think a BJP leader should have met Rohith Vemula's family and assured them of action?
Yes. I am the one who will do it. I will go to meet them.
Jaoonga, jaoonga, bhai (I will go, I will go)...
I am asking you because when Ramdas Athawale (the Republican Party of India leader from Maharashtra) went to meet the protesting students he was harangued by the students and he had to be brought out of the university under police protection. The students told him to first withdraw support to the BJP government and then meet them...
I will not be driven out. I will not face that.