Since her Lok Sabha appointment, Smriti Irani has never been out of the headlines. She has been transferred from one department to another owing to her controversial actions. In the past four years, she has headed three different departments. owing to BJP’s cabinet shuffle. In fact, she had the stormiest term as the HRD Minister (2014-2016) and was recently stripped of the I&B Ministry. Let’s take a look at how she came to be identified as the ‘Queen of controversies’.
Here’s a look back at all the controversies that engulfed her during that time.
Faking her educational qualification
In the first six months in office, controversies mounted about Irani’s educational qualifications. A freelance journalist filed a case against her claiming that there was a contrast between the educational details she had provided to the Election Commission (EC) on two different occasions. According to the documents, she had completed her BA in 1996 from Delhi University. But during the 2014 general elections, she had said that she pursued a correspondence B.Com course from DU. The complainant alleged that she intentionally provided incorrect details for which she was punishable under law.
However, due to failure in tracing the documents, the lower court in Delhi dismissed the case in 2016.
Calling off a program within a year of its implementation
Delhi University had launched a four-year Under Graduate course in 2013 but called it off within a year. This is because, in June 2014, Smriti Irani had ordered it to be revoked on grounds of violation of the National Policy on Education. Students and academics, across the nation, heavily criticized this move for overriding the decision of an autonomous body.
Replacing German with Sanskrit in Kendriya Vidyalayas
In October 2014, Irani announced that Sanskrit would replace German as the third language in Kendriya Vidyalayas. This unexpected decision created uproar amidst people as it was announced just a few months before the annual exams.
The issue received international attention as it got involved in a political line up with Germany. Moreover, German Vice Chancellor, Angela Merkel requested PM Modi to have a look at this matter at the G20 Summit. Following the agreement between the duo, the language returned to Indian curriculums as a foreign language in 2016.
Tiffs with IIT directors
As an HRD minister Irani created a lot of fuss with IITs.
In December 2014, IIT-Delhi Director, RK Shevgaonkar, resigned from his post due on orders by the HRD. The former stated that he was forced to clear the salary dues of Subramaniam Swamy, former IIT faculty (now a BJP leader), with interest, amounting to Rs 79lakh. Irani, of course, denied giving any such orders.
Within 3 months of this incident, she again got involved in a similar controversy with the resignation of IIT Mumbai chairman Anil Kakodkar. He had apparently announced his resignation due to a rift over the selection of some IIT directors. Irani denied these claims too.
Suicide case of Rohith Vemula
Irani’s ill-treatment of the death of Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula infuriated the public across the nation. An executive council suspended Vemula and other Ambedkar Students’ Association members on the basis of the complaint made by BJP’s students’ wing. This incident triggered Vemula’s suicide in January 2016.
Denying this charge, she claimed that the Council which had suspended them was formed by the prior government and the BJP had no interference in this.
However, it was later found that the Vice Chancellor of the committee was appointed by Irani’s ministry. In her speech, she also said that the university students didn’t allow doctors and police to go near Vemula until the next morning. But this too proved to be false as the university’s medical officer claimed to have reached the victim’s room after he committed suicide.
Her ‘anti-national’ comment
In February 2016, in an event commemorating Afzal Guru on his death anniversary, some students at JNU allegedly raised ‘anti-national’ slogans. The event saw the government strongly opposing and suppressing the activities and protest of the students.
Kanhaiya Kumar, President of JNU students’ wing was arrested as a result of suppression. The police marched inside the university campus and arrested Kumar. Irani and her team faced huge outrage across the nation due to such treatment of students.
In a fiery speech, she defended the actions of the government and criticized the students’ movement for being seditious and anti-national. This defensive stance brought upon her that name of ‘Aunty national’.
The Disastrous Fake News Guidelines
In April 2018, the I&B Ministry, which was headed by the former actress released a set of news guidelines to control the publication and spread of fake news. The guidelines allowed the Press Council Of India (PCI) and News Broadcasters Association (NBA) could suspend journalists indefinitely for spreading fake news until the latter’s innocence is proved. This led to a drama that would outrank some of Smriti Irani’s old TV Soap Operas.
The guidelines received widespread criticism and were later withdrawn when the PMO’s office intervened into the matter. A little while later in May, Irani was stripped of the Information and Broadcast Ministry, leaving her just with the Textiles Ministry in her portfolio.