Smriti Irani: Fit or unfit?
By: Afifa Jabeen Quraishi
What is a substitute for good education? A political career, you say? If you are in India, that’s likely. The debate raging over the academic qualifications of the country’s new HRD minister Smriti Irani exposes the double standard of Indian political parties.
Congress leader Ajay Maken had on Tuesday tweeted, “What a Cabinet of Modi? HRD Minister (looking after education) Smriti Irani is not even a graduate..” The issue quickly escalated and became one not just about her qualifications but about Irani’s integrity. This happened when on Wednesday two separate affidavits filed by the minister were revealed to be having discrepancies.
In an affidavit filed by Irani to the Election Commission in 2004, she claimed to have completed her BA in 1996 from Delhi University’s School of Correspondence, while in her affidavit filed in 2014, Irani claimed that she completed the first year of her B.Com in 1994 from the DU’s School of Open Learning.
Is Irani lying? Is she also following the path of her leader Narendra Modi who first hoodwinked the EC about his wife, denying her existence, and later acknowledged her only in 2014’s affidavit?
While Irani kept mum, the BJP tried to dilute the issue by asking frivolous questions about Sonia Gandhi’s qualification.Some were also quick to label it as a “sexist” debate.
The BJP’s supporters insist that just like one need not be a pilot to be an aviation minister or a sportsperson to head the sports ministry, one needn’t be a professor to be an HRD minister or to run the country’s prestigious IITs and IIMs. The fact is, while no one is asking for a professor or a doctorate holder to be HRD minister, a strong educational background is imperative to hold such an important job. Those giving examples of the likes of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates being college dropouts and yet being successful should know exceptions cannot be examples. The department needs experience and Irani has little. She is a smart politician (who lost her seat) but that is not enough to carry out the job she has been given.
India is one of 135 countries to make education a fundamental right of every child aged 6 to 14. It was in 2010 that the Manmohan Singh government brought the law into force, ensuring its commitment to education for all children. The emphasis on education in India is great and has been in the past linked to responsible citizenship.
Moreover, Modi, in his election speeches, never got tired of highlighting his achievements in the field of girls’ education in Gujarat. So why then some are choosing to look the other way when a new minister, heading an important ministry, not just is “unfit” for her portfolio but has also lied about her qualifications? On one hand we stress education for our girls and on the other we are expected to believe that education is not important for a high-level job.
If this is not a double standard, then what is?