By Sanjana Sanghi:
I sincerely hope that the HRD Minister Smriti Irani comes clean on the allegations against her regarding her education qualifications. I hope for this because her story has inspired me. She is the youngest minister in PM Modi’s cabinet – a woman of 38 who now holds what can safely be considered as one of the most important positions of power. It defies many stereotypes and will serve as an inspiration for many more women.
However, this emulation-worthy story can be rendered as one to be scorned at if the allegations against her prove to be true. From a political point of view, it will hurt the credibility of the BJP and put under scrutiny the criterion our celebrated Prime Minister considered while choosing an able Cabinet, while also damage Smriti Irani’s political career.
Can it be just a ‘typographical’ error?
As much as one tries to dismiss this controversy around her educational qualifications as politically motivated – history and some facts make it difficult to believe. I’d like to believe the BJP when they say that there have been “typographical errors”, however some incidences regarding the same in the past decade put that to question.
In 2004, Irani contested from Chandni Chowk in Delhi and declared that she had a Bachelor of Arts Degree. In 2014, according to the affidavit filed when she contested from Amethi, she declared that she had a “Bachelor of Commerce part-1 School of Open Learning (Correspondence) from the University of Delhi”. As though such declarations weren’t contradictory enough, she gave a statement last year that fueled further controversy. She said, “In that kitty of mine where people call me ‘anpadh’ (illiterate) I do have a degree from Yale University as well which I can bring out and show.”
However, this “degree” from Yale University was in fact a 6 day crash course on leadership with the Yale faculty.
In response to a complaint registered by Ahmer Khan, a freelance writer who found that Irani had declared 3 different sets of qualifications while filing her nominations in 2004, 2011, and 2014 respectively, the Court has agreed to hear a case about Irani’s possibly false educational qualifications. The petitioner’s complaint was admitted and a metropolitan magistrate of Delhi said he would hear pre-charge evidence in the case on August 28.
Ever since the Lok Sabha results last year, the BJP and Smriti Irani have faced flak for her educational qualifications. Last year, Madhu Kishwar, a woman’s right activist, had raked up a controversy over the fact that Irani was only ‘12th pass‘. The Congress immediately took to using Irani’s case as an instant reason to attack the BJP. Ajay Maken had tweeted, “What a Cabinet of Modi? HRD minister (looking after education) Smriti Irani is not even a graduate!” Union Minister Uma Bharti had retaliated to such statements by trying to ask how educated Congress President Sonia Gandhi was.
The BJP’s decision of a shortened monsoon session of the parliament this year suggests clear escapism. Lalit Modi’s revelations against External Affairs Minsiter Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan’s Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, the Land Bill, and now the fear of extensive cross questioning surrounding Irani’s controversy – all these might just be the reason to take this step and avoid embarrassment.
While Irani might have every quality and ability needed to head this ministry, however, falling short on the basic criterion and being caught for possibly fraudulent degrees will not only hurt the BJP, but also set a bad example for millions of students in India. If the Govt. representative responsible for looking after the education and overall development of ‘the largest youth population in the world‘ is proven to be involved in such dishonesty, what message does it send to the students and youth?
A Delhi court has taken cognizance of a complaint filed against her for allegedly giving false information about her educational qualification. For now, all we can do is wait till the entire truth of the matter is out. But even if she comes out clean, much of the damage has already been done.