Modi's degrees are not what got him elected, but concealing them may raise doubts about his integrity

Chief information commissioner RK Mathur, who administers the Right to Information Act (RTI), and Delhi University's central public information officer Meenakshi Sahay have done a disservice to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, by giving out the impression that they are trying hard to keep details of Modi's Bachelor of Arts degree under wraps. Here is how.

Firstly, Sahay refused to inspect documents sought under RTI, on the grounds that a postal order for Rs 10 which accompanied the application was not made out in favour of the Registrar of Delhi University. Information Commissioner M Sridhar Acharyulu called this "penny wise, pound foolish", and fined the CPIO Rs 25,000.

The saga does not end there, however.

Within days of this order, Mathur, without any explanations, took Acharyulu off the domain he was dealing with, that is questions regarding the Human Resources Department. Acharyulu found such a legal battle over a Rs 10 postal order inexplicable, and said he was "vexed with non response” from the CPIO".

 Modis degrees are not what got him elected, but concealing them may raise doubts about his integrity

PM Modi. Reuters

It was possibly Acharyulu's gumption in pulling up the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) last year for not providing certifications of Jana Gana Mana as the National Anthem and Vande Mataram as the National Song. He had also faulted a flurry of transfers of applications from one department to another.

His being divested of the HRD charge only adds fuel to the fire that attempts may be on to not share details of Modi's degree certificate. As The Indian Express reported, the CIC's order "comes only days after another order on 29 December, on allocation of work in which Acharyulu had retained the HRD Ministry".

The question is not whether Modi's BA degree from Delhi University and an MA from Gujarat University — as claimed by him in his affidavits in the 2004, 2007, and 2014 elections — are genuine or not, but of the concerted bid to stonewall publicising the details of it.

Mathur's action, so close on the heels of a punitive step initiated by Acharyulu, does raise doubts, and it is something that a CIC could do without, since he's holding an office in which people repose lot of trust, one that's a key route to ferret what governments hide.

As to the question of whether Narendra Modi has a BA degree from Delhi University, the answer could be yes or no. He has been in politics and been holding public office, initially as Gujarat chief minister for 11 years, before moving up to Delhi for another top elected office. The question should be whether he is a good administrator. Does his brand of ideology, inherited or developed, fancy voters to show their approval? That is normally the yardstick. When voting, one does not look beyond that.

Most voters don't even bother about the contents of the affidavits that politicians file with the Election Commission. The one key component, which is the financial status, could even well be a fudge. Which is why the Election Commission would now like to see them reveal the source of the income they show. Not having done so yet is an indication of why that affidavit was a formality, more in form than content. In short, pointless.

Coming back to Modi's educational degrees, it is hardly pertinent to the manner in which government ministers are appointed. A finance minister could be a lawyer — a la Arun Jaitley — and not a finance guy. Appointments are usually made on political considerations. Information regarding Modi's educational status — "qualification" is a word not advisedly used here, for it is no benchmark in the matrix we are talking about — has to be extracted one tooth at a time.

First, it was the Aam Aadmi Party's allegation that Modi did not hold a degree he claimed to have held. Quick release of an authenticated copy would not have let the fear of obfuscation take hold. When the degrees were shown by BJP chief Amit Shah and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley at a press conference in May last year, the matter should have ended. But it didn't.

A bellicose AAP insisted that the degrees displayed were fake, a very serious allegation indeed, but thereafter, instead of further proving the authenticity of the degrees, there have been attempts to stall it. RTI, a key right provided to all citizens of India, came into play.

If doubts about the degree are not put to rest entirely, questions arise about the integrity of the person. Let us assume that Modi does hold the degrees he claims to, and has no qualms about it, but why is the establishment making attempts to stall its disclosure?

The word of the Delhi University Registrar about the authenticity has not cut much ice with those who want to prove that it was not genuine. He had provided both the enrolment and examination numbers and explained that a variation in the way the name was written in the records was an error — something that does happen.

The DU demurred when it came to further clarifying it. The university said in response to an RTI application that "DU, as a matter of policy, seeks to maintain the privacy of every student as it holds the data pertaining to a students in a fiduciary relationship with the student concerned".

It could be so in principle, but it was an issue regarding the personal integrity of a man holding the highest office in the land, and in consultation with him, the details could have been allowed scrutiny. Especially when an RTI applicant was denied scrutiny on grounds that the postal order accompanying was not in favour of the Registrar.

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Updated Date: Jan 12, 2017 18:20:47 IST