When a fire is burning in the backyard, a wise, patient head of the family is expected to bring down the temperature by pouring cold water over it.
But, trust Smriti Irani to first pour gallons of ghee over it and then light a matchstick.
On Wednesday, when it seemed the fire that has engulfed the Hyderabad University campus was stabilising, if not abating, in came the HRD Minister firing on all cylinders against the "malicious attempt" to turn it into a caste issue.
The result: Now even the Dalit professors are enraged. To express solidarity with the students and to protest Irani's "fabricated" statement, ten of them have quit their administrative positions.
In an emotionally charged atmosphere, Irani should have ideally made an attempt to reach out to the students, listen to them patiently, assuage their feelings and address their concerns. At the very least, she could have made an attempt to visit the university, just as she rushes to Amethi at the slightest provocation, instead of fiddling with facts in her Delhi AC room while the campus was burning.
Now, Irani has turned it into an Us vs Them battle, not realising that in this war there is no Them for a minister-in-charge of the country's education system. It is all her parivar, even if not all of it is saffron.
The fire that she has stoked in Hyderabad with her attempt to blame the opposition for what is essentially a crisis triggered by her own ministry and BJP stooges on the campus, is classic Smriti Irani.
Picking up fights in public, getting into ego clashes and rushing headlong into battles where even angels fear to tread has been a hallmark of her politics. Flared nostrils, furrowed brow, flaming eyes and frequent calls to arms have become trademarks of her public persona. Fight, even when flight is the better option, has become her mechanical response to every crisis, making her India's Joan of Farce meets Don Corleone.
No fight is too low for the country's HRD minister, she competes in all categories, punches both above and below her weight.
Just a few days ago, when Economic Times wrote about the sifarish raj in Kendriya Vidyalayas under her ministry, an indignant Irani rushed to Twitter to pick up a catfight with the reporter. In her place, any other minister would have either ignored the report or asked a junior mandarin to write to the editor. But, perhaps, such restraint and discretion would have been an affront to the bellicose bahu image of the minister.
Before this, Irani took on renowned nuclear scientist and IIT Mumbai chairperson Anil Kakodkar, forcing him to quit from the board of directors of the premier institutions. Kakodkar's resignation came two months after IIT Delhi director R Shevgaonkar had stepped down from his post in December 2014 because of reported differences between him and the ministry over certain issues.
And, then, there is the mother of all battles she had picked up with her current mentor, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when, she had sat on a dharna demanding the Gujarat chief minister's resignation in the aftermath of the Gujarat riots.
Chronicling her descent from Queen-bee to Queen-been, in a cover story in May, the Outlook magazine had pointed out that Irani had become a liability for the party and may be soon cut down to size.
'The basic problem, say sources in the BJP, is this. She has overplayed her hand in trying to position herself as someone who is close to and favoured by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Simultaneously, she has also thrown her weight around in the party, with even colleagues in the government, as also bureaucrats. Complaints of rudeness, arrogance and temper have been carried to Shah, every inch Modi’s man,' the magazine wrote in a damning indictment of her style, temper and temperament.
While legends of controversies and catfights abound, there isn't much on the credit side in the minister's ledger book. Except for ramming through decisions like making Sanskrit compulsory in schools, withdrawing the non-Net fellowship to research scholars, the HRD ministry can't claim a single decision that has contributed to the betterment of the education system. She has, instead, been slammed for packing the varsities with pliant VCs — like the one in Hyderabad — and giving weightage to Hindutva crusaders like Dinanath Batra over academicians and scholars of repute.
In a brutal criticism of her ministry, SN Balagangadhara and Jakob De Roover, two professors teaching in Ghent University, Belgium, had recently called her a terrible choice for the ministry. "When you have a third-rate Sanskrit pundit as your advisor on higher education policy, why would you need to study the sociology, history, philosophy and psychology of science to find out the problems involved in generating and encouraging scientific creativity? Your Sanskrit pundit will hunt out the relevant Vedic shlokas, whereas Europeans and Americans can do empirical research into science," the scholars had argued, lamenting that her tenure was a tragedy of gigantic proportions.
Tomes can fill up legends of Irani's fall. Even encyclopedias will be too small for accommodating the words of her critics. Seeing her stumble from one controversy to another, one flame to another flagration, many like Madhu Kishwar would ask, didn't we tell you so?
"Here is someone who is not just poorly educated and mal-educated – she is just Class 12th pass – lied in her affidavit about her qualifications. Nor does she have the learning of a lived experience. Look at the trajectory of this woman – at 18, she leaves home for the glamour industry, to become a fashion model, a beauty queen, then gets into saas-bahu serials, which, even by the standards of the entertainment industry, is the lowest genre. It is brainless. She could not even qualify to head the National School of Drama," Kishwar had ranted in her interview with Scroll.in.
The tragic truth is, Irani has proved her critics right. Instead of obliterating the image skeptics had of her, she has converted every opportunity into a crisis, reinforcing the persona of an inexperienced, haughty and pugnacious politician who can't digest the success handed to her on a platter.
Irani has several steller qualities. She is fiery, confident and brave. Pitting her against political rivals like Rahul Gandhi, utilising her oratorical skills and experience of the theatre in parliament and TV studios could have turned her into an asset for the BJP.
Alas, they chose her for a job that requires erudition, patience, humility and the prescience to know that for a real guru, vasudhaiva (the earth) is a kutumbakam (family), not a perennial battleground.