Taking potshots at the move, Congress general secretary and head of its communication department Ajay Maken tweeted, “What a Cabinet of Modi? HRD Minister (looking after education) Smriti Irani is not even a graduate.” Maken cited the educational qualification as mentioned in Irani’s election affidavit.
In her affidavit, Irani has mentioned her education qualification as “Bachelor of Commerce Part-1, School of Open Learning (Correspondence), University of Delhi-1994”.
The BJP was quick to hit back. Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the comment was “most unfortunate”, adding, “The way Smriti speaks, both in Hindi and Cong takes a cheap shot at ‘non-graduate’ Smriti English… The Prime Minister has given her the portfolio (of HRD) on the basis of her capabilities.”
Meanwhile, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah tweeted, “To say that someone needs to be educated to be HRD Min(ister) is like saying one needs to be a pilot for Civil Aviation or a miner for Coal Min(ister).”
In a subsequent tweet, he clarified that by “educated”, he meant “highly qualified”. “That’s the problem with 140 letters — take “educated” in last tweet to mean “highly qualified” but I’m sure you get what I mean regardless,” Omar tweeted.
The high-profile portfolio — in the previous NDA government, it was held by M M Joshi — has pitchforked Irani ahead of the new crop of BJP leaders like Nirmala Sitharaman, Meenakshi Lekhi and Saroj Pandey. Though eyebrows have been raised over Modi’s decision on the grounds of her educational and political credentials, the fact that she comes without any baggage may hold her in good stead.
A party leader who did not wish to be named said, “No doubt, it will make her a front-ranking woman leader of the party.”
Irani was the BJP’s women’s wing chief during Nitin Gadkari’s tenure as BJP president till early last year, before being promoted as the party vice-president by Rajnath Singh last year.
Sitharaman, who has been made MoS (independent charge), has been an effective party spokesperson but Irani left her behind by being elected to Rajya Sabha in 2011. While Pandey replaced Irani as the BJP’s women’s wing chief, she lost the just concluded Lok Sabha elections. Irani too lost the elections but she put up a tough fight against Rahul Gandhi in. Lekhi won the elections from New Delhi, but lost in the ministerial race.
What may have proved an advantage for Irani is that even before she took the political plunge, she became a household name for her role in TV serial Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi that had a marathon run between 2000-08.
Roped in by the BJP in 2003, she showed an appetite for fighting big political battles. She contested against Congress leader Kapil Sibal from Chandni Chowk during the 2004 Lok Sabha elections but lost.
Irani has demonstrated her capability as an organiser in the past one year when she served as party in-charge of Goa. She held several booth-level workers’ meeting in Goa that culminated in what could be considered as one of the biggest political rallies in the state addressed by Modi early this year.
In 2004, she threatened to go on a fast over Modi’s alleged role in the 2002 riots. Her outbursts obviously appears to have been forgotten and was demonstrated publicly when Modi declared her as “chhoti behen” during an election rally in Amethi.