If Prime Minister Narendra Modi doesn't sack his human resource development minister, Smriti Irani, she may just become one of the important reasons the people of India will sack the BJP and its allies in the next general elections.
Irani is the least qualified minister to have held this nation-building portfolio, whose previous incumbents have been intellectual stalwarts such as Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Humayun Kabir, VKRV Rao, MC Chagla and S Nurul Hasan, and erudite politicians such as Karan Singh, KC Pant, PV Narasimha Rao and Murli Manohar Joshi. She is also the least performing HRD minister that the country has seen since Independence. And far from showing any evidence of disruptive thinking, she has only played destructive politics.
Whatever the faults of the UPA may have been, it contributed substantially towards triggering a nationwide re-thinking on the state of education in the country. The Knowledge Commission set up by the UPA government did some serious introspection on the state of higher education and presented a series of recommendations, which would have keep Irani constructively occupied throughout the five-year term of this government.
The HRD ministry under the UPA, which was headed by Kapil Sibal followed by MM Pallam Raju, gave the country's children the constitutionally guaranteed right to free and compulsory education and the more balanced Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) system, and took serious steps on matters such as the accreditation of universities, the sorry state of technical education, and tried to push (only to be stymied by the BJP) game-changing initiatives such as allowing foreign universities the right to set up campuses in India. And these were just some of the many positive contributions the ministry made in the ten years that the UPA governed India.
What has Irani done apart from furthering the cause of the ABVP on campuses, painting the saffron student organisation's opponents as a bunch of Maoists, getting beef banned in university hostels, and planting RSS operatives with sub-standard educational credentials in critical academic positions? And of course, with her penchant for histrionics, she has turned her media briefings into a long-running saas-bahu serials in a desperate need to be yanked off the air.
What would have been a comedy of errors turned into a national tragedy when Rohith Vemula, a Dalit Ph.D scholar at the Hyderabad Central University, committed suicide because of the by-now well-known conjunction of a casteist vice-chancellor's arbitrary actions based on a false complaint against five members of the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) with fuel to the fire being provided by Irani and the Telengana BJP leader (and the country's labour minister) Bandaru Dattatreya.
And Irani, after spewing venom on the ASA and painting Rohith as "anti-national" for opposing Yakub Memon's hanging, changed her tack completely after Modi, following a five-day silence, dramatically empathised with the pain of Rohith's family. Was Modi sending out a message to Irani? Her instant response seems to suggest so.
For, by alienating Dalits in particular, who anyway are in a state of disquiet around the country, and students in general, who perceive this government to be a bunch of backward-looking individuals working at the command of an organisation at odds with the values of Young India, when they should be working towards creating new jobs and giving students better campuses, Irani is proving to be a liability to the BJP, and an embarrassment for a ministry that had gotten used to being seen as an agent of change, despite flaws, in the UPA dispensation. The quicker she is relieved of her responsibilities, the better it will be for her country.