Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Cabinet reshuffle – or expansion as he calls it – has revealed that Union Minister Smriti Irani has lost her portfolio of Human Resource Development and has been given charge of, what many argue, is a less-significant Textiles ministry.
Could the Prime Minister’s move have much to do with the Union minister’s tryst with controversies – be it the handling of the suicide of PhD scholar Rohith Vemula or her alleged interference in UGC matters or her repeated Twitter spats with political colleagues?
Speculate, and there could also be a larger game-plan by the BJP behind Irani being given a less demanding role — the March 2017 Uttar Pradesh elections.
Introduced by PM Modi as his ‘chhoti behen’, Irani’s defeat to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi in the 2014 Lok Sabha was expected, but the fiery leader is not one to give up.
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WATCH VIDEO: Keystrokes – Smriti Irani Gets Textiles
Just after the elections ended, Irani conceded defeat but vowed to keep coming back to Amethi and ensure the constituency gets its fair share of development.
From farm benefits to welfare schemes for women, Irani has ensured her presence in Amethi is felt. In 2015, when the Modi government completed a year, Irani said in Amethi: “Bhale hi aapse chook ho gayi ho, lekin aapke saath mera rishta abhi bhi mazboot hai.”
During her visit in May this year, she said: “People here have not been able to knock on the doors of the Congress family in 60 years. The Nehru-Gandhi family has not fulfilled its promises, due to which, I have reduced Rahul Gandhi’s victory margin by 80 per cent.”
That the BJP is finding it tough to put forward a face in Uttar Pradesh has been evident. Poll surveys conducted over the last few months have shown that Union Minister Rajnath Singh and BJP MP Varun Gandhi are neck-to-neck in popularity as the party’s chief ministerial candidate.
Where does Smriti Irani come in then? While these poll surveys put her popularity in single digits, Congress’ move to introduce Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is perhaps behind the BJP’s strategic move.
While Priyanka has refused to step out of her family pocket-borough of Amethi and Rae Bareli in the last few election campaigns, this time around the Congress has decided to use Priyanka’s oratory skills across the length and breadth of UP, perhaps understanding that the Rahul magic has failed to deliver, given the party’s electoral defeats over the last few years. The Congress Party expects Priyanka to address at least 150 rallies across the state beginning in the next few months.
Who best in the BJP to counter her? A Smriti Irani.
After giving Rahul his worst-ever scare in electoral politics – Rahul secured 4,08,651 votes, while Smriti Irani came an impressive second at 3,00,748 – Irani is perhaps the best bet in the BJP to take on the ‘youth’ leader in the Congress.
If recent political developments within the Congress Party are anything to go by, Rahul’s cousin Varun Gandhi is unlikely to be a strong counter-offensive for the BJP, as the estranged Gandhi family seems to be closer than ever in recent political times.
When asked whether she would be ready to take on her party’s election campaign as its CM candidate, Irani refused to divulge any details.
“I am a disciplined party worker and will follow whatever order is given.”
With election campaigning set to take off in the coming months, only time can tell.