Union minister Smriti Irani has lashed out at actor Deepika Padukone for visiting Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi in solidarity with students and teachers who were attacked by a masked mob on the evening of January 5. Irani made the remarks on Thursday at an event hosted by The New Indian Express in Chennai.

“I want to know what Deepika Padukone’s political affiliation is,” Irani said. “Anybody who has read the news would know why she would stand with the protestors.” The minister for textiles, and women and child development claimed it was not unexpected to the Bharatiya Janata Party that Padukone would stand with people who want India’s destruction.

“She sided with people who hit girls on their private parts with lathis,” alleged Irani. “I can’t deny her that right. She made her political affiliation known in 2011 that she supports the Congress Party. If people are surprised by this, it is because they didn’t know. There were a lot of admirers of hers who have just discovered her position.”

The mob that attacked JNU students allegedly comprised Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad members armed with sticks and hammers. They injured at least 34 people. The outfit is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s student wing. Members of the ABVP have blamed the violence on “Naxals” and leftist students. However, Scroll.in traced Whatsapp messages planning the attack – as well as celebrating it – to the Hindutva organisation’s activists. The Delhi Police, however, have not arrested anyone yet in connection with the violence.

“I will only say this: there is an investigation that is ongoing, I am in a constitutional post so it is best that I not say anything until the police bring facts to the floor of the court or actually makes those facts public, if the police so desire,” Irani said.

The minister said it would be irresponsible of her to talk about the details of the violence. “There are people who are informed enough and made the choice to go there and stand with people who supported a terrorist,” she added. “Because our democracy says you can celebrate your right to insult the Constitution, the national flag and uniformed officers, I pay as an Indian for my democracy.”

Smriti Irani’s party colleagues Sambit Patra, Ram Kadam, Ramesh Bidhuri, Tajinder Bagga and Shahnawaz Hussain have also criticised the actor. But on January 8, senior Cabinet minister Prakash Javadekar said Padukone should not be targetted for visiting JNU. “Why only artistes, any common man can go anywhere to express his opinion, there cannot be any objection,” he said. A number of people, mostly Hindutva supporters, had threatened to boycott her movie Chhapaak, which released on Friday.

Padukone visited JNU on the evening of January 7 to attend a protest meeting. She stood by as former JNU Students’ Union President Kanhaiya Kumar raised “azaadi” slogans, and also met current President Aishe Ghosh. Ghosh was one of the 34 people injured in the mob attack.

On Monday, the 34-year-old actor told NDTV that she was proud that people had come out to protest, and were not scared. “I feel proud that we are not scared,” she said. “I think to be able to express ourselves. I think the fact we are thinking about this and about the future of our country...it is nice to see people are coming out on the streets to voice this and express. Because if we want to see change, this is very important.”

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