Editor's Note: A Delhi court has sought HRD minister Smriti Irani's education records and #SmritiMadamDegreeDikhao is trending on Twitter. While the alleged violation of law is a matter for the court to decide, a section of opinion on social media has again raked up an older debate. The News Minute is reproducing an older story, first published when the debate over her education first cropped up. Irani had just been made minister for human resources and several people had raised objections about her lack of education, equating it to a lack of qualifications to head the ministry. The story, which was first published in in June 2014 under the headline "Why Smriti Irani's education is not important" has been reproduced below along with an update:
The comments on Smriti Irani's qualifications to take charge of the Human Resource Development Ministry are way off the mark. India's Constitution, enabling any person to hold elected posts, was crafted in such a manner precisely because its Drafting Committee headed by B R Ambedkar recognised the problems its citizens faced. The committee recognised that being elected to represent India's peoples could not be qualified by markers of gender, sex, education, literacy or caste.
The controversy started hours before the government-elect was to be formerly sworn-in. The first comments about Irani's appointment began with academic Madhu Kishwar's tweets which hoped that the new government would appoint a heavy-weight for this important post.
Smriti Irani merely class 12 pass. Went to bcm fashion model on to tv serial bahu. Is this qualifcation enf 4 India's Education Minister?— Madhu Kishwar (@madhukishwar) May 27, 2014
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!— Ajay Maken (@ajaymaken) May 27, 2014
If one accepts the argument that someone has to be qualified on some level to be minister for human resources, should one be a farmer to head Agriculture, belong to a fishing community to head Fisheries, a trader to head Commerce? Then, the biggest question of all, what one must be qualified as to be the head of any country? Should a person who is appointed as prime minister then have been head of a school, or college, or any other institution, because then one would have the experience to deal with many people and manage others?
The separation of powers is a principle the Constitution has put in place and to assist these elected representatives, they have the power to appoint committees of experts who study issues as required and make recommendations on which elected representatives act. But then, a long-time academician and a seasoned politician already know that. These pot-shots at her education speak more about those who made the comments than about Irani herself.
The importance of education
The Human Resources Development ministry is perhaps one of the most important ones in India because it shapes the policies of education in the country: right from primary education to higher education and also runs research institutions. The question one must really be asking is what sort of policy Irani might bring to this ministry. Irani's political rise from a declaration of a fast-unto-death over Modi's alleged role in the Gujarat violence of 2002, to becoming Modi's "younger sister", is remarkable. All in the span of a decade. It suggests an astute politician more than a naive newbie.
That the BJP's brand of feminism is in line with the RSS is well documented. But Smriti Irani is not just your usual woman politician in a male bastion.
She has gone from being a model-turned-actor to being projected as an able politician who took on none other than Rahul Gandhi in his home turf of Amethi. When the results were out, Rahul Gandhi's winning margin was the lowest the constituency saw in three general elections. It dropped from hovering around three lakh to just over one lakh. Even her detractors within the party grudgingly respect her. An article in the Economic Times (Rise of Smriti Irani: Journey from bahu of TV to BJP's Vice President) documents her rise and also what her presence as a woman politician means in a patriarchal BJP-RSS combine. Rohini Singh writes for the Economic Times:
"Whether or not anyone agrees, Irani's balancing of her role as a mother and a politician is well documented.
"Campaigning for the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, she had told Pramod Mahajan, the then party campaign manager, that she would work for the party everyday but she would come back home every night - to take care of her then just-born child. Asked once during that campaign by a journalist how she manages parenthood and politics, she had said, "Will you ask this question of a male politician".
During A B Vajpayee's tenure as prime minister the BJP was accused of altering history in school text books. For a politician who declared that she would fast unto death unless Modi resigned, she has risen to becoming someone who has gained the trust of a man she once criticised. What then, is Irani's brand of politics, should be the real question here.
At an event on Friday, Irani gave indications of her brand of feminism. She had said that women in India are not told what to do or how to go about their lives. When the audience loudly disagreed with her, she changed tack. As regards the ministry she heads, it is attempting to discontinue various research scholarships to widespread opposition from the student community, which has dubbed its protests OccupyUGC.