Stepping up the offensive on Dalit scholar suicide issue, Rahul Gandhi on Saturday commenced a day-long fast along with agitating students of Hyderabad Central University here after participating in a candle light vigil in the wee hours.
The Congress Vice President spent about two hours with agitating students past midnight and participated in the candle light vigil along with 2,000 students to mark the birthday of Rohith, who would have turned 27 on Saturday.
Rahul returned to the protest site this morning to begin the 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.
"A young life full of dreams and aspirations was cut short. We owe it to him, to the memory of (Mahatma) Gandhiji and to every single Indian student who dreams of an India free from prejudice and injustice," he said in another tweet.
Rohith's mother Radhika and brother Raju were also present at the protest site. Gandhi, who arrived here at 12.10am, 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.
Velpula Sunkanna, one of the research scholars whose suspension was revoked recently, said Vice-Chancellor Appa Rao Podile should be removed from the VC post.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Thats the only demand," Sunkanna, who is on an indefinite fast along with Vijay Kumar (another scholar whose suspension was revoked), said.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 Gandhi'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 demanding the fulfilment of their demands such as sacking and arresting of Podile and dropping of Union ministers Smriti Irani and Bandaru Dattaretreya from the cabinet among others.
This is Rahul's second visit to Hyderabad since Vemula was found hanging in the varsity's hostel room.
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.
BJP, meanwhile, flayed Rahul's visit to the HCU campus and charged him and Congress with politicising the issue.
"Rahul Gandhi and Congress are so politically bankrupt and unemployed that he has to politicise tragic death of a student repeatedly," Telangana BJP spokesperson Krishna Saagar Rao said.
"Why is Rahul Gandhi is not in Chennai, where three girls' suicide occurred almost a week ago," he asked.
"His desperate attempt to earn some petty political expediency, has brought him back to HCU campus. This is classic politics of vulturisation," Rao said.
On Friday, 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 for leave from the afternoon of January 29 and the next senior most professor Dr M. Pariasamy will perform the duties of the VC till further orders," a university official said.
The reasons behind his leave are not immediately clear, the 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.