Narendra Modi on Friday made all the right noises on Rohith Vemula and on Babasaheb Ambedkar during a tour of UP, but it remains to be seen if his outreach will be enough to counter the massive damage BJP has suffered due to the Dalit student's tragic death.
Addressing a convocation ceremony at Ambedkar University in Lucknow, the Prime Minister heaped encomiums on the chief architect of Indian Constitution while also condoling the death of young Rohith Vemula who he said "was driven to commit suicide".
"Leaving politics aside, more than anything else a mother lost her son. I share and feel her pain," said Modi, speaking for the first time on the suicide that has taken the country by storm.
"Rohit's parents lost a gem," he added.
But in an indication of the huge challenge staring at his party, sloganeering students disrupted the Prime Minister in the middle of his speech. They had to be whisked away by the police.
Ever the shrewd politician, Modi was perhaps aware that there was high possibility of such a backlash but not speaking on the issue would have been nothing less than political suicide since the BJP is perceived to be largely responsible for the PhD scholar's death.
In the last 10 years though, Hyderabad University has witnessed eight students from the backward community take their own lives after being forced to suffer institutional and social discrimination.
Nevertheless, politics is about perception and Modi's UP visit — he will attend three events in Lucknow and one in his Lok Sabha constituency Varanasi — is carefully calibrated to address Dalits and the young voters, two sections who BJP fears are getting increasingly alienated due to recent events.
Modi's speech during the convocation on Friday was an extension of the laudatory comments he made about Ambedkar during the recent Parliament debate on Indian Constitution and secularism.
"Ambedkar did not live for himself, he dedicated his life to the nation for the welfare of marginalised communities," he said, adding, "Ambedkar proved himself amidst criticism and insults. He didn't let his commitment to nation die."
The Prime Minister urged students to learn from their failure and reminded them that their path to success is built on the silent contributions of a book binder, a computer mechanic or even a tea-seller who wakes up in the middle of the night to serve students hot beverage so that they get the energy to study.
It was aimed at furthering his carefully constructed pro-poor and humanist image.
In his first visit to state capital Lucknow since becoming the Prime Minister, Modi is scheduled to offer floral tributes at Ambedkar's urn at Ambedkar Mahasabha office and visit several places associated with the Dalit leader and social reformer, a move whose political significance is not lost on anyone.
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Updated Date: Jan 22, 2016 20:11:12 IST