A degree-wise uneducated person can be a brilliant human resource development minister, provided she felt disturbed enough by the system that precluded her higher education, and then she spent her life in a movement that looked for ways to remove the roadblocks so that other students under similar circumstances do not meet the same fate. We get no such indication from Smriti Zubin Irani’s past.
We do not know what led her to working as a waitress and cleaner in McDonald’s, but a general profiling of such boys and girls suggests they look for some quick bucks as pocket money rather than try to pull their families out of financial misery. Poverty-stricken families do not send their wards to beauty pageants either. One who finds herself on the ramp or a studio in the late teens or early youth takes a conscious decision of leaving formal education mid-way. So we do not have the sob story of a girl who laments the fact that she had to drop out of college after higher secondary education followed by BCom Part 1.
Irani’s social service and dedication to the BJP are commendable, of course. She did deserve a ministry if Narendra Modi’s promise of a new India were to be taken seriously. That she is a woman and the youngest one in the Cabinet lot pleases us all the more.
She must be sensitised to the problems of the entertainment industry. MPs like Paresh Rawal and she could have been in the Ministry/Department of Culture and addressed the issues of theatre, television and cinema. Or, based on the creditworthy work that she has done for her NGO “People for Change”, which provides drinking water to the poor in remote areas, she could have been given the charge of rural development or water resources. If she has performed well as vice-president of her party’s Maharashtra youth wing, national secretary, all India president of the BJP’s women’s wing and Rajya Sabha member, the organisational capability she displayed made her worthy of a higher organisational responsibility. She could have made a good MoS under Rajnath Singh in the Home Ministry. Or she could manage parliamentary affairs…
Why HRD? What does Irani know of the shortcomings of the education sector? In what direction does she wish to lead India’s student population? Bureaucrats, as ‘experts’ of the field, will at the most give her feasibility reports. Babus do not make policies; they do not give the nation a direction. And most advices she would get are of hygiene factors like number and condition of school buildings, status of teachers’ attendance, uniform availability, mid-day meal etc. What about the curricula? What about the method of teaching? What about creating an environment where even dropouts excel, making the act of dropping out of school a worthwhile experiment not caused by economic constraint?
Importantly, an ‘untested’ Modi being made Gujarat’s chief minister in 2001 is a bad analogy. He had been thoroughly tested as in-charge of several States. He pulled out the BJP from wretched situations wherever he was given the charge. He tolerated conspiracy of his colleagues in his home State and stayed a disciplined party worker waiting for better times to arrive. These are organisational skills, and chief ministership was a promotion in the same ‘department’, so to speak. Education has never been Irani’s department per se.
There is hope, though. Modi has been a modernist in the RSS fold. He can combine the Sangh’s fascination of reviving India’s glory in mathematics, agriculture, textiles, medicine, astronomy etc with the modern world’s focus on R&D, innovation, intellectual property rights and individual brilliance. As in Gujarat, if he remains the show stopper at the Centre, directing ministers including newbies, whose individual performance dim in comparison to the supreme leader’s stewardship, Indian education can scale new heights even with Irani as the minister. Mind you, the new NDA Government’s thrust on economic revival will be incomplete without the country’s educational institutions supplying the industries with adequate and qualified human resource. Along the lines of Modi’s mantra of ‘minimum government, maximum governance’, the prime minister may merge the HRD Ministry with that for Science & Technology for a seamless transition for students of the science stream. It is the stress on science education and scientific tools’ innovation, first before the World Wars and then after it lost to the Soviet Union in conquering space first, that propelled the United States to the top before it started throwing its weight around on the global scene. I am sure Modi envisages a rise of India as a world leader. Without education followed by scientific excellence, it is impossible. Make sure HRD Minister Smriti Irani takes us there.