HYDERABAD -- Rallying behind protesting students on the Dalit scholar suicide issue, Rahul Gandhi today went on a day-long fast here at Hyderabad Central University, drawing sharp criticism from BJP which accused him of "politicising" a sensitive matter.
The Congress Vice President spent about two hours with agitating students and participated in a candle light vigil along with 2,000 students past midnight to mark the birthday of Rohith, who would have turned 27 today.
He returned to the protest site this morning and joined the students on fast, expressing solidarity with them."Rahulji is on fast," NSUI President Roji M John said.
Rahul, who is visiting the campus for the second time in as many weeks, tweeted:
I am here today at the request of Rohith's friends and family, to stand with them in their fight for justice
— Office of RG (@OfficeOfRG) January 30, 2016
We owe it to him, to the memory of Gandhiji and to every single Indian student who dreams of an India free from prejudice and injustice
— Office of RG (@OfficeOfRG) January 30, 2016
Rohith's mother Radhika and brother Raju were also present at the protest site.
In Delhi, three Union Ministers accused Congress of shedding "crocodile tears" over the suicide issue and attacked Rahul for using students as a "political tool".
Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said nine cases of Dalit student suicides had taken place in the campus during the UPA rule but Rahul never bothered to go there as he asked opposition parties to wait for the report of the judicial commission probe ordered by the Centre into the suicide.
"Congress is shedding crocodile tears simply to gain political mileage... This is part of their anti-Modi campaign across the country," he told reporters.
Also attacking Rahul, Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari said,"Exams are nearing in Hyderabad (university). All the students are busy with studies. The government has (already) announced judicial probe into the matter. Peace has been restored there. (In such times), Rahul Gandhi ji is politicising the issue."
Rural Development Minister Birender Singh also took a pot-shot at Rahul, saying the "the party which has been reduced to 44 MPs from 206 MPs in Lok Sabha is politicising every issue".
"They are politicising every issue. There is nothing new in it," Singh said.
Rahul, who arrived here at 12.10 AM, spoke to the agitating students and lit candles before Rohith's picture.
As students raised slogans against Irani and Dattaretreya, Rahul intervened and politely told them not to shout 'murdabad' (a slogan wishing death to).
"Let us not say murdabad to somebody. That will not do justice," he said.
Hitting back at the BJP, Congress accused it of failing to initiate action against its leaders including Union ministers for the suicide of the Dalit scholar.
"Who has resorted to politics in the matter? It is the BJP. Union Minister Dattatreya wrote to HRD Minister Irani against the dalit students following complaint from the ABVP President. The HRD Minister wrote as many as five letters to the University," senior party spokesman Ajay Maken said.
Wondering whether this was not politicisation, he accused BJP General Secretary Murlidhar Rao of making the "patently false" charge that Rohit was not a dalit and that the dalit scholars had links with the Naxals.
Activists of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) protested against Rahul's visit even as it called for a "bandh" in Telangana colleges.
Velpula Sunkanna, one of the research scholars whose suspension was revoked recently, said Vice-Chancellor Appa Rao Podile should be removed from the VC post.
"On January 17, we have filed SC/ST Atrocities case against Appa Rao and (five) others. These six people should be arrested immediately. Thats the only demand," Sunkanna, who is on an indefinite fast along with Vijay Kumar (another scholar whose suspension was revoked), said.
On Rahul's second visit to the campus, he said, "I look at it the way others..Arvind Kejriwal, Sitaram Yechury, CPI leaders and many people who came and supported us do. The same way we see Rahul Gandhi".
Three of the students including two research scholars who were earlier suspended and have sat on a fast unto death, are also demanding sacking of Union ministers Smriti Irani and Bandaru Dattaretreya.
Vemula was found hanging in the varsity's hostel room on January 17.
The Congress Vice President had visited the University on January 19 following the suicide by the Dalit scholar and met the agitating students and the family members of Vemula.
Yesterday, in a dramatic turn of events, Dr Vipin Srivastava who took charge as the interim Vice-Chancellor of HCU amid protests over the suicide by Rohith here proceeded on leave.
"Dr Vipin Srivastava who took charge as the interim Vice Chancellor of Hyderabad Central University has proceeded on leave from the afternoon of January 29 and the next senior- most professor Dr M Pariasamy will perform the duties of the V-C till further orders," a university official said.
He was appointed as the interim VC on January 24 after Podile went on leave due to vehement protests from the student community on the suicide.
The HCU had in September last year suspended five students D Prasanth, Vijay Kumar, Sheshaiah Chemuudugunta, Velpula Sunkanna and Rohit, for six months (entire semester) for allegedly assaulting ABVP leader Susheel Kumar in August.
However, last week, bowing to intense pressure HCU revoked suspension of four students, against whom action had been initiated along with Rohit.
Periasamy said his priority was to restore peace and normalcy on the campus.
"Whatever demands of (agitating students)...most of the demands...whatever we (HCU) can accept without any problems, we will accept", he said.
On students demanding a job for a family member of Rohith, he said HCU would try to get assistance from the Ministry of HRD and also from the state government in this regard.
Contact HuffPost India
Also On HuffPost: