Oh dear, what a yarn!
Diehard supporters of the ‘Queen of Controversies’ still can’t accept that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ordained “off with her head”.
Dear fans of Smriti Irani, stop living in La-La Land. The now-former HRD minister has not been parked in the textile ministry so that one day she may invade the wonderland called Uttar Pradesh.
Forget the UP spin. The fact is, her 'Spinderella'-like rise, as The Telegraph sums up with a brilliant headline, has been arrested. With her demotion, the prime minister has sent out a clear message: Put your head down, perform, stay within your limits, control your ambition and behave. Period.
The ‘oh-she’s-getting-UP’ band of cheerleaders doesn’t get a simple fact: In politics, when you are grooming someone for a bigger role, you give a clear message by raising the presumptive candidate’s profile (case in point, Anupriya Patel). Just before the flight, you do not clip her wings.
UP is not a ripe Malihabadi mango waiting to fall into the BJP’s basket. At the moment, the BJP is not even the clear frontrunner — BSP is neck-and-neck — in the polls. Making an outsider with zero experience of winning an election, someone who doesn’t fit into the caste equations, the face of the party’s campaign just because she can give fiery speeches short on facts or wage Twitter wars would have been tantamount to exaggerating Irani’s skills and Amit Shah’s intelligence.
So, get used to the idea that Irani will now oversee the ministry of textiles, where apart from controlling a Rs 6,000-crore budget, she could perhaps devote some time to designing the Tricolours she had made mandatory for all Central varsities.
In many ways, Irani had it coming. Like many of Shakespeare’s characters, she is blessed with a fatal flaw that had destined her downfall.
Irani’s problem was, and still is, that she has just one response for every situation: Fight. A savvy politician, as Kautilya pointed out, needs to be adept in saam, daam, danda (punishment) and bheda to succeed. Irani, unfortunately, knew only how to use her Twitter danda (handle). Such was her Quixotic readiness for battle that Irani considered no fight beneath her stature.
As Firstpost had pointed out earlier, 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.
The explosion of glee on the social media after her transfer from the HRD ministry must be a reminder to her of the old axiom: Those who live by Twitter, die by Twitter.
In any other government, the HRD minister would have been quickly shown the exit after adding fire to two of the biggest student agitations of her time: The unrest in Hyderabad after “that child” Rohith Vemula’s suicide and the countrywide outrage after the incidents in JNU.
Those two incidents underlined her inability to act as the minister of the department, the head of a family everyone respects or listens to, a peacemaker when tempers are flaring all around. By positioning herself as an adversary, Irani came across as an instigator, cantankerous leader of a faction. She could have got away with all these controversies, her dodgy degrees, catfights, Twitter tantrums and ‘poke-me-and-I-shall-bite’ attitude if only she had brought about dramatic changes in an education system that is crying for reforms.
India’s education system suffers from an unfortunate dichotomy: While schooling is in the grip of the private sector — government schools are terribly understaffed and of poor quality — that treats students like consumers, higher education is dominated by government colleges that dole out obsolete degrees. Instead of addressing the flaws in the education system that is churning out unemployable youths, Irani allowed herself to get distracted with petty fights, campus chaos and the Hindutva agenda.
Her cavalier attitude towards education was manifest in one of her Marie Antoinette-type decisions: If you can’t give them proper education, give them patriotism and Sanskrit, a desire reflected in her decision to make flying of the Indian flag and teaching of the Indian language mandatory.
And, as Wednesday's edition of The Times of India points out, she resisted and resented advice, treating it as undue interference on her turf. This overzealous guarding of her silo brought her into conflict with almost everyone who suggested reforms. From vice-chancellors to teachers, from Niti Aayog to the PMO, every establishment and office got a taste of her temper and obduracy.
A few days ago, Irani exhorted her critics to judge her by her work. The prime minister seems to have done just that.