Smriti Irani will prove her detractors wrong

Back in the 1960s when Indira Gandhi first became the Prime Minister, actually nominated as such by the Congress syndicate, well-known journalist Khushwant Singh wrote that she wasn’t qualified to become even a lowly clerk in the Government which she was going to head. For, she did not have a graduation degree. Now whether or not she was a great Prime Minister, what is undeniable is that she was a consummate power politician.

Admittedly, her father, JL Nehru had the right educational background. Yet, he was a failed lawyer who joined politics and was exceedingly successful at playing it. The famous Urdu poet had said of him, Vakalat na chale, to Quam ka leader ban ja. ( If you fail as a lawyer, join politics and become a leader of the nation.)

Why Smriti Irani is critical to Modi’s vision for India

If you trust Maneka Gandhi, no-one in the present generation of Nehru-Gandhi Dynasty has a proper degree barring her own son, Feroze Varun Gandhi. We know that Maneka Gandhi herself graduated from Delhi’s prestigious Lady Shriram College. But her estranged sister-in-law, Sonia Gandhi, did not go beyond a Catholic missionary-run school some distance away from their village Orbassabo in northern Italy.

Let us, for the moment, leave Indian politicians alone.

Winston Churchill, easily the greatest political leader of the 20th century, was a poor student, getting into the Royal Military Academy only on third attempt. But he too had no college degree. Yet, he led Britain to victory over Hitler’s Germany. Across the pond, Abraham Lincoln too did not boast of a college degree. Yet a few will deny that he ranks among the greatest of American Presidents.

Mulling increasing spending on higher education: HRD Minister Smriti Irani

Education, actually, played a very little role in the making of Bill Gates and Paul Allen, the co-founders of the word’s best known software company, Microsoft. In fact, Allen persuaded Gates to drop out of Harvard to develop software. That the college drop-out went on to become the richest man on earth – though the more correct description will be the world’s most generous philanthropist — is now part of the folklore.

Nearer home, the Marwari seths who founded huge empires did not even care to have proper schooling. Why, Dhirubhai Ambani, who successfully gamed the system to set up what is now India’s largest industrial conglomerate, did not even have the school-leaving certificate.

Congress scared of BJP: Smriti Irani

Again, in the media profession, S Mulgaokar, the greatest Indian editor whose elegance of prose remains unsurpassed by any Indian Express editor before or since, or, for that matter, by any other editor of other English language newspapers, was a plain vanilla Senior Cambridge pass.

Incidentally, Mulgaokar, who did not exploit his paper for self-glorification and self-enrichment, was friends with the rich and famous of his time but died a pauper, not even owning a flat anywhere in India or abroad. While still on the media, of the famousWashington Post duo of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, who broke the Watergate scandal and caused US President Richard Nixon to quit in disgrace, only Woodward had a degree from Yale. Bernstein had no college education. Yet, he was a better writer, his crisp prose invariably finding preference over the copy filed by the Yale-educated Woodward.

So, what are we driving at? Simple. That though college education has its uses, it is not always necessary for becoming successful. As we have shown from examples from diverse professions, the essential ingredients for success, be it politics, business, journalism et al, seem to be an innate talent, determination, guts, application of mind, circumstances and hard work etc.

Therefore, it was idiotic of Ajay Maken, the Congress spokesperson, to make an issue of Smriti Irani’s lack of a college degree. Surprisingly, Congressmen have not given themselves the customary month or two to grieve in relative peace over their disastrous loss before launching futile fusillades of verbal missiles against the victor NDA. For that reason also it seems that they are resigned to sit in the Opposition for a considerable period of time, especially given the way the Modi Government has hit the ground running.

Why Smriti Irani’s educational qualification is a non-issue

Now, Smriti Irani might turn out to be a good HRD Minister despite her lack of a higher formal education. For, she seems to have graduated well from the university of life to be able to hold her own against the most educated protagonists from the rival parties in numerous television debates. Indeed, she can make rings around Ajay Maken , an alumnus of a Delhi University college, on any subject under the sun. Smriti Irani seems to have a grasp on the issue she is speaking on while Ajay Maken  gropes for the right words, proper thoughts. She commands authority when she speaks. Ajay Maken  evokes derision for his lack of clarity and comprehension.

Again, the fact that a long series of most educated politicians who have held the charge of Education/HRD Ministry have only made a complete hash of it would only buttress the point that you do not have to be a specialist to hold charge of specialist Ministries. If that logic was to be followed, you would have a doctor heading Health, an IT expert heading Telecom, an ace businessman heading Commerce, an accomplished diplomat heading Foreign Office, and a policeman heading Home, and so on and so forth.

It is downright foolish, this logic about an educationist heading HRD. Indeed, Congressmen now approvingly recall the educational qualifications of Murli Manohar Joshi, but when he was Vajpayee’s HRD Minister they had pilloried him in unison. If the truth be told, whether it was Kapil Sibal or Pallam Raju, they achieved zilch as HRD Ministers, though Sibal, as is his wont, did make tall claims.

Therefore, the chances of an ‘uneducated’ Smriti Irani surprising all of us in HRD cannot be ruled out for she has what her predecessors lacked, that is, oodles of earthy commonsense. Of that we have no doubt whatsoever. As for the discrepancy in the affidavits filed by Smriti Irani, as pointed out by a moral leper who passes off as a Congress spokesperson, well, it is no doubt inexcusable. She ought to have resisted the temptation to mis-declare her educational qualifications while she unsuccessfully contested against Sibal in the Chandni Chowk constituency in the 2004 Lok Sabha poll. She corrected that lapse in 2009 election, declaring that she had only completed first year of the BA ( Correspondence Course) when the call of duty pulled her away to the world of glamour and television. But, doubtless, Smriti Irani was wrong in filing that affidavit in the 2004 election.

Congress should introspect before questioning Smriti’s qualification: BJP

But, frankly, was her mistake as grave as the one the same party spokesman had committed when he grossly mis-declared his income and, when caught, paid over Rs three crore more in additional taxes. This made him a self-confessed tax thief, didn’t it, though the IT Department still insisted that the undisclosed income was actually far in excess of the amount the high-powered assessee had belatedly admitted upon being challenged by them. At least, Smriti Irani did not stand to make any direct pecuniary gain by mis-declaring her educational qualifications. There is one more reason Ajay Maken ought not to have waded into the controversy over Smriti Irani’s lack of a college degree. Did he not know that neither Sonia Gandhi nor her son, Rahul Gandhi, have a proper college degree? In fact, Sonia Gandhi when first elected to the Lok Sabha had claimed to be a graduate from the Cambridge University. She had to withdraw that claim when challenged. She had actually enrolled herself in a private PT College-type institution in the town of Cambridge, UK, which taught English language to persons from non-English-speaking countries.

Finally, a college degree from a posh university is no guarantee of success in politics or, for that matter, in any other walk of life. For proof, go no further than Salman Khurshid.

Virendra Kapoor1 Jun 2014

Latest News