As the NDA government enters its third year, Smriti Irani feels there is a “grudging acceptance” of her merit among critics, who once questioned her credentials to be the country’s Human Resource Development Minister.
Irani, a first-time minister and the youngest in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ministerial council, also said that education in the previous government had become a “political akhara (political battlefield)” and that she had brought a more cohesive and consensual approach to the ministry.
“I think that one of the bright spots in my two years (as the HRD Minister) has been that not a single state raised its voice against the Government of India with regards to HRD initiatives because they (decisions) had been taken with consensus,” she told The Indian Express in an exclusive interview on Thursday, ahead of the NDA government’s second anniversary.
Even as she recapitulated some of the initiatives started under her ministership, Irani admitted that “much is still left to be done”. Speaking about some of the new proposals being considered by her ministry, Irani said that the government is looking at ways to formalise Vedic education, which currently follows no proper guidelines and structure.
She also said that is there is ample empirical evidence to suggest that the no-detention policy of the Right to Education Act had led to “detrimental impact on learning outcomes” and that the government is seeking legal opinion to address this. The problem of arbitrary fee hike in private schools is another issue that is currently under the HRD Ministry’s scanner, she said.
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Irani has courted quite a few controversies in the two years the Modi government has been in power. Her stint as the HRD Minister started with a row over her educational qualifications, followed by the resignation of the IIT Delhi director and the fracas over observing Good Governance day on Christmas. Her second year witnessed a spate of student agitations against her ministry on university campuses, including Hyderabad Central University and Jawaharlal Nehru University. Irani attributed the latter to the Congress party seeking to “settle political scores with the government through campuses”.
Asked about allegations of political interference in the functioning of universities, she said, “I think that whenever the BJP is in power with regards to education and culture, this attack is imminent. It is an ideological war, not a political one. There is that black shadow that will always hang on our heads; a shadow which the Left has very deftly crafted.”
Pressed to comment on the JNU sedition row, Irani said, “I feel very strongly about my country and stronger still about people who abuse my country.”
Asked about the controversy over the Prime Minister’s educational qualifications, Irani said. “Politics has sunk to a new low, but more than that I think it would be inappropriate for me as the minister in-charge to comment.”