Smriti’s entry into HRD triggers a row

Ajay Maken wades into controversy and ends up with egg on his face

May 28, 2014 04:03 am | Updated November 16, 2021 07:06 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Television star-turned Union Minister Smriti Irani’s meteoric rise saw her come under the scanner on her first day in office on Tuesday. Curiously enough, the first salvo was fired by one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s most vocal supporters, activist Madhu Kishwar.

Drawing attention to Ms. Irani’s educational qualifications, Ms. Kishwar tweeted: “Smriti Irani merely Class 12 pass. Went to become fashion model on to TV serial bahu [daughter-in-law]. Is this qualification enough for India’s Education Minister?”

In another tweet, she accused Ms. Irani of misrepresenting her educational qualifications.

With criticism about the appointment coming from within, Congress spokesman Ajay Maken waded in and ended up with egg on his face, courtesy his tweet: “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!”

As with Ms. Kishwar’s tweets, Mr. Maken’s comments backfired with Twitterati stating a Class XII pass was better than some of the Oxbridge advisers the Congress had. Some wanted to know about Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s educational qualifications.

Asked for a reaction to the controversy, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said at a Cabinet briefing that it was “unfortunate” if the Congress had made such a comment; adding Ms. Irani had proved her mettle in the Rajya Sabha.

While columnist Swapan Dasgupta joined the debate with his tweet, “Someone remind me. Did Rabindranath Tagore go to university? He certainly established one & had enlightened views on education.’’

Ms. Irani also got support from historian Ramachandra Guha. “The great polymath Lewis Mumford not even a B.A. I agree degrees are over-rated [yours and mine too],” he tweeted in response to Mr. Dasgupta.

Ms. Irani, however, steered clear of the controversy over her surprise inclusion. In a fleeting interaction with the media after taking charge, she stuck to the Ministry matters.

Though she lost the Lok Sabha election to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi in the Nehru-Gandhi pocket borough of Amethi by over a lakh votes, Ms. Irani appears to have been rewarded for making him sweat.

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