After targeting Indian National Congress (INC) leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi over their apparently dubious education qualifications, it is now the Bharatiya Janata Party’s turn to brave counterattack on account of two different educational details filed by the Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Zubin Irani. In 2004 – when she contested from Chandni Chowk constituency in Delhi – Irani had declared her educational qualification as “BA 1996 Delhi University (School of Correspondence)”. But in the affidavit filed by her for the recently concluded election in Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, she deposed that she had done “Bachelor of Commerce Part-1, School of Open Learning (Correspondence), University of Delhi-1994”.
As per the School of Open Learning, Part-1 is the first year of the three-year programme. Her affidavit while filing the nomination for the Rajya Sabha election in 2011 also cites BCom Part-I, School of Correspondence, University of Delhi, 1994.
Controversy over Irani’s qualifications as well as no evidence of flair for the subject of education in her past erupted the day before yesterday when the media was speculating she would be given the HRD Ministry. The first set of people to raise the issue of her under-qualification was, ironically, online supporters of the BJP. The persons who drew maximum attention towards themselves yesterday for the question was a hardcore campaigner for Narendra Modi’s prime ministership, Madhu Kishwar, followed by former Union Minister Ajay Maken.
Kishwar posted on Twitter: “Irani claims to be BCom part 1 frm (sic) correspondence school. No such degree exists. Means just took admission and left. Misrepresentn (sic) in affidavit.” Another of her posts said, “Congress & Left have nurtured intellectuals, academics for decades. BJP neglected this arena. @narendramodi better put worthy person in HRD”. Wishing to be seen as an issue-based, rather than blind, supporter of the Modi Government, the critic had written: “Now onwards NaMo will be judged by performance as PM. Old track record as CM very important but doesn’t mean blind support taken for granted (sic).”
Maken’s observation was ironical because he once faced barbs from party colleague and senior Mani Shankar Aiyar who had snobbishly dismissed a letter from him, saying the language used in it couldn’t possibly be from someone who had been a student of Delhi’s Hansraj College. “What a Cabinet of Modi? HRD Minister (Looking after Education) Smriti Irani is not even a graduate! Look at her affidavit at ECI site pg 11 (sic)!” Mr Maken tweeted, immediately inviting sharp reactions.
Latching onto the issue of Irani’s qualifications today, the INC said she was guilty of a “mis-statement, distortion and a criminal offence”, which have electoral consequences. “We don’t know which is correct–2004 or 2014? Both can’t be true,” party Spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi told reporters.
Reacting to the criticism, Minister for Water Resources and Ganga Rejuvenation Uma Bharti has shot back, “I want to ask Madam Sonia Gandhi, what is her qualification?”
Interestingly, since yesterday, a lot of examples of formally uneducated but politically successful personalities have been given in defence of Irani, but not one name in the list is of an education minister. This ministry has conventionally gone to a legislator of the ruling party who has some university degrees to his or her credit, whether at the Centre or in a State. Perhaps a reason that BJP supporters were the first to raise the issue online is that, as prime ministerial candidate of the party, Modi, through his electoral speeches, had raised hopes of a meritocratic and/or technocratic council of ministers that the middle class youth by and large believed could extricate the country out of the poor shape the last government had left it in. One aspect of governance that Modi had indicated needed a big boost was human resource.
सिर्फ़ News chief editor Surajit Dasgupta argued against Irani’s appointment as the HRD minister but supported the idea of her inclusion in a ministry commensurate with her track record in public life yesterday in the article, “Strange choice for HRD,” published in this website.