Smriti Irani is new I&B minister: Ex-HRD minister was shunned by RSS for not saffronising education

Following the resignation of NDA's vice-president candidate Venkaiah Naidu as Information and Broadcasting Minister and from the Housing and Urban Development ministry, Smriti Irani and Narendra Tomar were appointed as the new ministers of the respective ministries on 18 July.

Irani, who is the incumbent textile minister, has been given the additional charge of the I&B ministry.

Irani will be the fourth I&B minister appointed in the three years of Narendra Modi-led NDA government. Between 2014 and 2016, the current HRD minister Prakash Javadekar held the portfolio, followed by finance minister Arun Jaitley. In a cabinet reshuffle in 2016, Naidu had assumed the charge of I&B ministry.

A popular face on Indian television, 41-year-old Irani has been a Union minister for the last three years.

Starting her political career as vice-president of the Maharashtra Youth Wing of the BJP in 2004, Irani rose to the rank of Union human resource minister in 2014, following a narrow defeat against Rahul Gandhi in his home constituency of Amethi in the general elections.

Her appointment to one of the most important ministries (human resource and development) was followed by severe criticism, particularly due to her perceived lack of formal higher education. Critics argued how the country’s education portfolio could be handed to a person who had not even gone to college, reported Hindustan Times.

Shortly after her appointment, a case was filed against the minister over allegations that she made contradictory claims about her education in documents filed in different years with the Election Commission, Hindustan Times reported, adding, her claim to have a degree from Yale University was also lampooned.

Irani also faced public outrage and the Opposition’s ire over her handling of the episode related to Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide in early 2016. This incident snowballed into a political flashpoint with the Opposition alleging that the HRD ministry pushed for the punishment of Dalit students, including Vemula, by sending five reminders to the Hyderabad university’s vice-chancellor on a complaint from labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya. Opposition parties alleged Irani distorted facts, the daily reported.

Irani's handling of 9 February 2016, JNU row was also criticised, which she however defended in a fiery speech in Parliament later.

Apart from these incidents, Irani was also criticised for appointing Vishram Jamdar as the chairman of the Vishweshwaraya National Institute of Technology (VNIT) in Nagpur. Jamdar, The Indian Express reported, then had RSS connections.

The controversies in her stint go back to November 2014, when the HRD ministry had asked all Kendriya Vidyalayas to put an end to German as the third language option. The ministry wanted it to be replaced by the Sanskrit language. However, later, she said German would continue to be taught as an "additional subject of hobby class". This, again, created a furore and even German Chancellor Angela Merkel raised the matter with Prime Minister Modi.

Despite all the controversies and pressure to remove Irani from her position, the Narendra Modi government stuck with her for two years. However, internally, especially Amit Shah, was not happy with the controversies she had generated, reported Hindustan Times. According to the report, RSS was also critical of her as she couldn't "saffronise" the education system enough.

In the July 2016 Cabinet reshuffle, the HRD ministry was taken away from Irani and she was given the ministry of textiles instead. As a textile minister, her stint was relatively smooth and incident free. Irani was also conspicuously missing from the media glare throughout her stint as a textile minister.

By giving the additional responsibility of one of the most important ministries to Irani now, the BJP government has again shown confidence in her. A more visible and talked about ministry than the textile, information and broadcasting ministry, could again thrust Irani into the limelight.

Irani’s appointment comes at a time when the I&B ministry is in the process of revamping the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) or Censor Board with a new Cinematograph Act. CBFC, constituted under the Cinematograph Act 1952, reviews and certifies films for public exhibition, Livemint reported.

The ministry is also planning to formulate a national communication policy in a bid to enhance access and dissemination of information across the country.

Updated Date: Jul 18, 2017 14:56:17 IST