Smriti Irani was one of the most-discussed reshuffles in the cabinet expansion of the Union Council of Ministers on Tuesday night. She was shifted from the key HRD ministry to the relatively less prestigious textiles portfolio.
The former model-turned-TV actress-turned politician has had a turbulent journey from India’s favourite bahu to India’s trolled ‘aunty’. We take a look at Irani’s journey from gaining prominence as a politician in BJP and being the youngest Cabinet minister in the Modi government to becoming an alleged liability for the same.
Kyunki Smriti bhi kabhi bahu
1976: Irani was born in Delhi and comes from a Punjabi–Bengali family. She has said that she worked as a waitress and cleaned the floors at a McDonald's restaurant before finding stardom. Irani initially worked as a model and was a finalist in the Femina Miss India 1998 pageant.
2000: She acted in two television soaps- Aatish and Hum Hain Kal Aaj Kal Aur Ka- before getting her big break in Kyun ki Saas bhi kabhi bahu thi. Her portrayal of Tulsi Virani, the “ideal bahu” gained her a huge fan following. The show ran for about 8 years and ended in 2008.
Tulsi enters politics
2003: Smriti entered the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2003 while continuing to work on Kyunki.
2004: She contested from the Chandni Chowk constituency in Delhi and lost against Kapil Sibal in the Lok Sabha elections.
An ironic piece of Irani’s past is revealed by the fact that she threatened to go on a fast-unto-death demanding the resignation of Modi with regards to the 2002 Gujarat riots. She changed her stance eventually and event went on to defend Modi about the issue.
Irani’s rise in BJP
2010: Irani was made the National Secretary of BJP and also appointed as All India President of the BJP Mahila Morcha.
2011: She was appointed as Member of Parliament from Gujarat in the Rajya Sabha.
2012: Irani’s ascension continued BJP's vice-president.
2014: Smriti contested the 2014 general elections against Rahul Gandhi in Amethi constituency of Uttar Pradesh. Despite losing, she gave the Indian National Congress quite the scare of a reduced mandate in this key constituency.
Smriti Irani controversial appointment as HRD minister
Smriti was appointed as the Union Minister for Human Resource Development on May 26. People were infuriated by the decision, finding it absurd that 12th pass Smruti would handle the education portfolio.
Her education has always been a murky subject, with disputing reports about her qualifications. In 2004, Irani stated in an affidavit that she had a Bachelor’s of Arts degree from the School of Correspondence, Delhi University. But in the 2014 General Elections, she declared that she had a Bachelor’s of Commerce Part-1 degree from University of Delhi.
Which leads us to the Yale controversy; Irani was in even more hot water when she claimed that she had a degree from the prestigious Yale University, and she even declared that anyone can file a PIL about the poll affidavit. Turns out that she attended a six-day leadership programme (read: crash course) at the Yale campus in Connecticut, in June 2013.
German-Sanskrit row in Kendriya Vidyalayas
Irani once again received flak for replacing German with Sanskrit as the third language in Kendriya Vidyalayas. Her defence for the decision was that German’s inclusion was a violation of the three language formula. She also said that German would continue to be taught as an "additional subject of hobby class". This decision, at a time when Modi was to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel, led to quite a bit of indignation.
FYUP rollback storm
2015: The rollback of the controversial Delhi University’s four-year university programme (FYUP) Critics, many being from the Opposition, bashed the decision, calling it the ministry’s attempt to impose its decision on an autonomous institution. Irani asserted that 40-odd courses in the programme were not sanctioned by the President. She also added that, “The programme would have produced 77,000 students (each year) with degrees without any worth. Had they been on the streets, were we ready to meet that situation? If I have protected their future, why are they hurt?”
Controversy over appointment of IIT directors
Anil Kakodkar resigned as the chairperson of IIT-Mumbai allegedly because due to clashes with the HRD ministry over selection of IIT directors. Kakodkar slammed the ministry’s interference in the selection process.
Rohith Vemula suicide
The straw that broke the backbone of Irani’s HRD ministry was the outrage over the suicide of Rohit Vemula, a Hyderabad University scholar. Rohith hung himself on campus on January 17, only days after he was banned from the University hostel and other common areas on campus for allegedly attacking an ABVP activist.
The poor handling of this case was not the only major blunder on Irani’s part. She was also accused of altering facts in her Parliament speech about the issue. Many believe that this case was one of the factors that encouraged the reshuffle.
The raging issues of sedition, nationalism and student politics following the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) controversy. The events inflamed after a "disciplinary" enquiry and arrests were held into the holding of an event against the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru.
When she tried to ‘prove a point’ about the same in Parliament while reading an ‘offensive’ pamphlet about Goddess Durga, the Congress attacked her act, asking for an apology for the blasphemous remarks.
2016: Which leads us to the cabinet expansion for the Union Council of Ministers. Her replacement in the HRD Ministry will be the newly-elevated Cabinet minister Prakash Javadekar. Many see this move as punishments for falling short of the Modi government’s expectations.