Home >Politics >Policy >Smriti Irani’s stint as HRD minister in 10 controversies

Smriti Irani, who was the Union human resources development (HRD) minister till late on Tuesday evening, was among those whose portfolio was changed after Prime Minister Narendra Modi reshuffled his cabinet. She was shifted to the textiles ministry, with incumbent Santosh Gangwar heading to North Block as minister of state for finance. Former environment minister Prakash Javadekar takes her place as HRD minister. Her two-year stint as HRD minister was rather controversial, with several policies and decisions coming in for flak. Here are some of the more controversial issues involving Irani:

1) Her own degree

Irani’s educational qualifications were the subject of scrutiny and criticism, days after she was appointed HRD minister. The issue came to light when an 2004 affidavit filed with the Election Commission showed that Irani held a bachelor’s degree in arts from Delhi University, passing out in 1996 through a special correspondence programme. The affidavit filed before the 2014 elections however suggested that she’d only completed the first year of her bachelor’s degree in commerce in 1994 through correspondence from Delhi University’s school of open learning. Irani also claimed to have a degree from Yale University, which the opposition and her critics latched on to, given that she’d only attended a six-day leadership programme in 2013.

2) DU’s FYUP programme

In June 2014, Irani initiated a roll-back of Delhi University’s (DU) four-year university programme, just a year into its initiation. It triggered a row between DU and the University Grants Commission, which scrapped the programme. However, Irani’s decision was welcomed by her political opponents, with the Congress throwing its weight behind it.

3) IIT intervention

Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi director R.K. Shevgaonkar resigned from his post in December 2014, reportedly over Irani’s intervention in the institute’s affairs. Shevgaonkar resigned two years before his term was to end. His resignation came after alleged pressure from the HRD ministry to “release pay of nearly 70 lakh to IIT-D faculty and BJP functionary Subramanian Swamy as salary dues between 1972 and 1991," The Times of India reported. Irani denied the allegations, instead alleging that Shevgaonkar had faulted on account of setting up an “illegal" campus in Mauritius.

4) Anil Kakodkar resignation from IIT-M

In another case of reported interference by Irani, renowned nuclear scientist Anil Kakodkar resigned from his post as chairman of the IIT Mumbai board in March 2015. In this case, the alleged intervention involved the selection of three IIT directors, who were called from outside the shortlist. Kakodkar later said that it was the prerogative of the search committee, which he was heading, to “invite such candidates if it was found necessary."

5) German-Sanskrit row

In October 2014, Irani’s HRD ministry decided to replace German with Sanskrit as a third language in Kendriya Vidyalaya schools. The matter triggered a diplomatic row with Germany, even raised at the highest levels by German Chancellor Angela Merkel during her meeting with Modi at the G-20 summit a month later in November 2014.

6) Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle

In May last year, a controversy involving Irani erupted when IIT-Madras took action against a student’s study group, the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle (APSC), over an anonymous complaint to the central government. The complaint alleged that the group was trying to create an atmosphere of hatred, by distributing controversial pamphlets and posters on the campus, some of which were critical of Modi. Irani later said that her ministry played no role in banning the group and that the decision to do so was taken by the institute itself.

7) RSS appointees

In November 2014, Irani invited criticism over the appointment of Vishram Jamdar as the chairman of the Vishweshwaraya National Institute of Technology (VNIT) in Nagpur. Jamdar, The Indian Express reported then, had RSS connections, which may have played an important role in his application getting fast-tracked before his eventual appointment to the post.

8) Good Governance Day

In December 2014, the ministry’s Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti sent out a circular asking all its schools to observe 25 December as ‘Good Governnace Day’. The day was chosen as it was also former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s birthday. It led to a row, with her critics alleging a “communal design", given that the day coincided with Christmas, a public holiday.

9) Rohith Vemula suicide

Irani’s handling of the suicide of a Dalit research scholar at Hyderabad Central University, Rohith Vemula, spiralled into a major political controversy. The trigger for Vemula’s suicide was a complaint written by the BJP’s student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), to the party MP and Union labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya, who forwarded the letter to Irani, leading to the suspension of Vemula and other Ambedkar Students Association members. They were also expelled from their hostels. In January this year, the students, including Vemula, went on a hunger strike following their expulsion and, on 17 January, the scholar committed suicide. The aftermath of Vemula’s suicide saw Irani making a fiery speech in Parliament, for which she came under criticism “for spreading lies and distorting facts", not least from Vemula’s family.

10) The Jawaharlal Nehru University row

Irani found herself amidst yet another controversy, this time involving Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students, including JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar, who were arrested and charged with sedition, for allegedly making anti-India statements at an event held on campus. Irani defended herself and her government’s actions in yet another fiery speech.

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