Smriti Irani 2.0: more wit, less aggression is the way

Smriti Zubin Irani on the day she assumed office as Textile Minister last year.   | Photo Credit: V. Sudershan

The past week, in the larger canvas of public life in India, was a busy one. Elections were held to the post of President of India and the ruling party chose it’s vice presidential nominee. A significant political comeback also happened last week, almost unheralded in the melee—that of Union minister Smriti Irani. A year after she lost the prestigious Human Resources Development (HRD) ministry, she was handed additional charge of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry.

The return of Ms. Irani to a Ministry that is by definition high-profile, is not without a back story of lessons learnt, penitence, and second chances. Top sources in the government and the BJP said that the seeds of Ms. Irani’s return were sown in the manner of her fall from favour. “She has always been regarded as a quick study, and was given the HRD ministry for this reason. The controversies that occurred from Rohith Vemula’s suicide to the JNU incident and her combative style ensured very bad press for the government on these issues. More importantly, appointments to heads of various research and academic institutions were being reduced to tugs of war. This and other reasons went into the decision to wrest HRD from her. However, she retained her Cabinet status while being given Textile Ministry. The message was clear: this is not irretrievable,” said a senior government source.

The one year that she has been at the helm of the Ministry of Textile was very different. Gone were the everyday television bytes on the political issues of the day, and Twitter interaction too was rather plain vanilla. The one thing she did continue, however, was to repeatedly return to Amethi, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s Lok Sabha seat where she too had contested in 2014. “Textile is not a ministry that has a high degree of public interaction, mainly dealing with textile industry people, and their issues. Therefore, to popularise positive public engagement with it, some very successful social media campaigns were launched, including the #IWearHandloom campaign that trended for three straight days (August 1-3) and reached 60 million people, #cottoniscool trended eight hours straight, earlier in the summer this year,” said a senior source familiar with campaigns. It was a feel good campaign that helped project a kinder, gentler Minister, far from the nine O'clock prime time debate demeanour of the past.

The cherry on the cake was the first ever business-to-business textile summit that her Ministry organised in Gujarat earlier this month, inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi—a sure sign of being back in favour. “It was a big undertaking, and passed off with a high degree of positivity all round. Despite restiveness in the textile sector because of the new Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime, the Minister hasn’t been the focus of any protest,” said a source.

In the couple of days that she has managed the I&B ministry, her combativeness has also been leavened with irony and wit. When Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi attacked the present regime invoking Hitler, she was quick to respond by reminding him of the Emergency imposed by the Congress party government of the day in 1975. To emphasise that such criticism could cut both ways, she added, “However, thank you @OfficeofRG for all that you do. Sincerely from the BJP.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to effect a reshuffle of the Union council of ministers to fill crucial vacancies there, like the Defence and Environment portfolios, possibly after the Monsoon Session of Parliament. Whether Ms. Irani retains the I&B portfolio is to be seen, but her return to political favour is unmistakable.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2022 7:17:22 PM |

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