Smriti Irani has met her match. Since the Budget Session of Parliament began earlier this week, the Human Resource Development Minister has been almost single-handly thwarting attacks from the Opposition on their criticism of the unrest at the country's universities after the suicide of a Dalit student in Hyderabad on January 17 and the student protests that have followed the arrest of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students' Union president on charges of sedition on February 12.
The former actress' defence of the government's actions has been punctuated with literary flourishes and hyperbole. Her speeches in the both Houses have drawn much appreciation from government supporters, but Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati on Friday stole a bit of Irani's thunder by calling her bluff.
On Wednesday, Irani and Mayawati had a heated argument over the death of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula. Mayawati had insisted the government should respond to her demand that Union ministers allegedly linked to Vemula's suicide should resign, that the university's Vice Chancellor be sacked and that a Dalit member be included on the judicial committee investigating the case.
A dramatic response followed from Irani: "First you allow the discussion... You are senior to me. You are a woman. If you want, I am ready to reply. If you are not satisfied with my reply, I am ready to behead myself and lay it on your feet."
Mayawati had to wait 48 hours for a reply. On Friday, Irani said it was incorrect to say there is no member of Dalit community in the inquiry committee constituted to probe Vemula’s suicide.
Expressing dissatisfaction with Irani's response, Maywati said an upper-caste judge was the only person on the panel. She then promptly recalled the minister's earlier promise. “I am not satisfied with the answer of HRD Minister, the truth is that the inquiry committee has no Dalit member. Will you now keep your word?”
While Irani has yet to officially respond, the exchange had Twitter speculating on her possible reaction. Here's a selection: