Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Smrithi Irani and the Controversy over her Educational Qualifications

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

The new Prime Minister of India, Hon'ble Narendra Modi was barely sworn in and a new row has erupted. The Prime Minister keeping in mind his promise of Minimum Government, Maximum Governence appointed a rather lean ministry. large infrastructure ministries which were considered cash cows by the UPA regime have been clubbed together in order to eliminate  overlapping jurisdictions and minimize time expended on getting clearances and permits. Jawaharlal Nehru created a byzantine bureaucracy which was totally beyond accountability and Modi has set out to rein in this wayward officialdom. He followed it up with a spectacular gesture of inviting all the heads of State and Government of the SAARC. Narendra Modi's swearing in ceremony became a mini summit meeting of all the SAARC nations. The invite to Shri Nawaz Sheriff. the Prime Minister of Pakistan, was a diplomatic masterstroke. The presence of the Pakistan Prime Minister added significance to the occasion.

Unlike the UPA with its huge maga Ministry of nearly 90 ministers, Modi's Cabinet has only 24 Ministers of Cabinet rank. There are 10 Ministers of State with independent charge over their ministries and 14 Ministers of State. Many BJP heavy weights were denied cabinet berths and a number of younger men and women were brought in as Ministers with Cabinet rank. Obviously there will be a lo9t of disappointed MPs who were expecting the be made members of the Cabinet. One particular appointment however has generated some controversy. Smrithi Irani, a well known TV artist who acted in the mega serial Kuanki Saas bhi Kabhi Bahu thi was appointed Minister of Cabinet rank for the Ministry of Human Resource Developemt. Higher Education comes within the purview of this Ministry and it is quite likely that Narendra Modi may take that particular Department and meld it with some other Ministry. He has spoken of the 5 Ts governing his administration: Talent, Tradition, Technology, Transparency, Tourism. Keeping this principle in mind perhaps the Department of Higher Education may be merged with some other Ministry. However, the Congress party raised the lack of educational qualifications as a major talking point.

The Ministry of Human Resource Development was created by Rajiv Gandhi and was headed for a long time by Arjun Singh who used his office to literally sell licences to establish "deemed universities". The Supreme Court had to intervene in order to regulate the spate of deemed universities that have sprung up.With the exit of the State from the field of Higher Education, private players have entered the field in a big way and Higher Education is one field in which the coll refreshing breeze of liberalization has not been felt. Indian Higher Education continues to be over regulated and there is no place for innovation or initiative in the field of Higher Education. Indian Universities are in a state of terminal decline and Higher Education requires immediate attention.

Smrithi Irani has clearly stated that she has studies only up to the 12th Standard and the Congress party says that her lack of educational qualifications makes her ineligible for the job. Indian Ministers of Education have at times been over educated like Dr Nurul Hassan who inflicted enormous damage to the cause of education by making higher education drift in an over charged ideological milieu. Irani will certainly do no such damage and it is best not to allow ideological agents occupy that position. In the two previous instances of non Congress rule, the Congress and its ideological allies mounted serious challenge first to Dr Chander, the Minister for Education under the Janata Party in 1977-79 and also to Dr Murali Manohar Joshi who served as MHRD Minster under Atal Behari Vajpeyee. By entrusting this portfolio to an  minster who will not be perceived as partisan, Narendra Modi has insulated the field of Higher Education from the kind of pulls and pressures which it has seen in the past. Smrithi Irani will obviously be guided in her brief by the Prime Minister.

One of the most damaging consequences of the long innings of Dr Nurul Hassa as Minister of State for Education was that all important Institutions were brought under the tutelage of the Congress party and its affiliates: ICHR, UGC, ICSSR, ICCR, CSIR etc. It is time to democratize these institutions and the time is now.

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