Protesters raised slogans, attempting to disrupt Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech at the Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University in Lucknow, where he is chief guest at a convocation today.
A student was escorted out of the auditorium and some protesters have been detained.
PM Modi is attending several events in Uttar Pradesh today associated with BR Ambedkar, the architect of the Constitution and a Dalit icon, signalling his party’s focus on Dalits, who comprise a vital 21-22 per cent of voters in the state, where elections will be held in 2017.
His speech today is being watched closely as it is anticipated that he may break his silence on the suicide of Dalit research scholar Rohit Vemula in Hyderabad, over which two of his ministers are confronting anger.
The PM has not commented so far on the political maelstrom over the suicide of the 26-year-old research student, who committed suicide on Sunday last, days after he and four other Dalit students were suspended over clashes with activists of the ABVP, the BJP’s students’ wing.
There have been massive protests across the country as students and opposition parties allege that Rohith was subjected to caste discrimination.
Union minister Bandaru Dattatreya has been accused of compelling the university to punish Rohith and the four other Dalit students. Education minister Smriti Irani has also drawn protests for saying that the suicide had nothing to do with a caste battle.
Uttar Pradesh goes to polls exactly a year from now and the BJP is eyeing a repeat of the national election in which it won 72 of the state’s 80 seats. The party got much of its support from Dalit voters who shifted loyalty from Mayawati’s BSP, which failed to score a single seat.
Ahead of Mr Modi’s visit, Mayawati said: “If the PM and the NDA are serious about Dalit votes then the centre should take more realistic steps to help Dalits in the country. And reservation for Dalits in the private sector can be one such step.”