Smriti Irani, controversy's favourite child, kicks up a storm in the Textile Ministry
In over a month since taking the post as Minister of Textiles department, the firebrand leader is known to be at loggerheads with her senior-most bureaucrat - Rashmi Verma.
BJP leader Smriti Irani, on 5 July was moved from the Human Resource Development ministry to the Textiles ministry as part of the cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In over a month since taking the post as Minister of Textiles department, the firebrand leader is known to be at loggerheads with her senior-most bureaucrat — Rashmi Verma. The Indian Express quoted some sources saying that even the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) had to step in to resolve the matter.
According to the report, Irani has differences with Verma over aspects of the Rs 6,000-crore apparel and textile package cleared by the Cabinet on 22 June. They also disagreed on the preparations for a textile summit which was scheduled to be held in October.
Irani also repeatedly contacted Verma's office seeking response on a range of issues — procedural, administrative and policy-related. Sources also witnessed a heated argument between the two in the presence of other officers.
This is not the first time, Irani has made headlines for her fiery temper. Since the time she was made a cabinet minister two years ago, she has remained popular for her outbursts inside and outside of the Parliament. Her role as the Human Resource Development minister has been widely criticised (also gained her the displeasure of the RSS) and some critics also pointed out she is the one cabinet minister who has damaged the BJP politically.
Here are a few instances where Irani has been part of controversies:
Ever since coming to power, Irani has been part of various spats on social media platform, Twitter, with Congress leaders like Priyanka Chaturvedi and Rahul Gandhi. In May 2016, after the Assembly Elections took place, Irani got in to a spat with Chaturvedi over the loss of Congress in the state of Assam. At the time she took a dig at Rahul Gandhi and said that 'losing is his forte'. This spat kept her trending on Twitter for a long time.
In another instance, in June 2016, Irani and Bihar Education Minister Ashok Chaudhary had indulged in a verbal duel on Twitter, triggered by the use of 'dear' word by Chaudhary. Irani objected to Chaudhary's tweet when he taunted her about the new National Education Policy's progress.
In response to the spat she wrote an open letter on Facebook post signed 'Aunty National' where she described the struggles women have to face on a daily basis. She said that she is unapologetic about who she is and the hard work she does and that nothing and nobody could take that away from her or any other working woman. She also referred to her Twitter spats when she said, "So while many working women battle this challenge in confined working spaces, I spat it out on twitter for my office travels with me. But then there are some who say why talk about yourself at all, surely one day they shall realise the amount of work you have done."
Rohith Vemula suicide
On 17 January 2016, Rohith Vemula — a Dalit PhD student at the University of Hyderabad, committed suicide after suspension from college. The HCU had reportedly stopped paying him his fellowship money after he was found protesting against the campus authorities. The issue snowballed into a political controversy after critics alleged that the HRD ministry had pushed for the Dalit students to be punished.
When asked to respond to the controversy, Irani said in the Lok Sabha that Vemula's death was used as a political tool. She said, "This is how politics was played on this child and his dead body. Nobody allowed a doctor near him. The police has reported... Not one attempt was made to revive this child. Not one attempt was made to take him to a doctor. Instead his body was used as a political tool. Hidden. No police was allowed till 6.30 the next morning. Not me, the Telangana police is saying this."
Irani's statements were branded as a lie by Vemula's mother and various faculty at the university. The incident inspired simultaneous protests by the Dalit community and the BJP was widely criticised for its stand on the Dalit community.
The Dailt's are a major vote-bank and they were a major part of the 2014 victory of the Modi government. Irani's handling of the situation alienated the community.
The JNU row
Soon after the Rohith Vemula suicide, some students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University were arrested for on sedition charges after they organised an event on Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru who was hanged in 2013.
The event caused clashes between the students of the JNU and the members of ABVP. JNU Students Union president Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested on sedition charges after he allegedly raised anti-national slogans. The political controversy escalated when Home Minister Rajnath Singh released a statement, "If anyone raises anti-India slogans, tries to raise questions on the country's unity and integrity, they will not be spared."
Smriti Irani jumped into the controversy when she summoned the vice-chancellors from across the country a week after the JNU controversy began to unfold and asked them to install a national flag on a 200-foor mast at a central location on every campus. Her failed attempt to portray liberals as anti-national made her a target for a lot of criticism.
Her comments on the issue in the Rajya Sabha also kicked up a storm.
JNU VC appointment
In the past Smriti Irani is known to have had differences with President Pranab Mukherjee over the appointment of JNU's vice-chancellor. In January 2016, Irani had made her preference clear when she referred VS Chauhan, a scientist, but Mukherjee chose M Jagadesh Kumar from IIT-Delhi.
This was not the first time that the apointment of college heads by Irani's HRD minitry was mired under controversy. In September 2015 there were rumours that Irani had asked BJP leader Subramanian Swamy to be the JNU VC. Swamy even tweeted about this saying that he has preconditions that he would the ministry to meet.
The Degree row
As soon as Irani took her post as the HRD minister, there were allegations that she was not qualified enough for the post. In 2004 when she was contesting for the elections, she had claimed that she was a Bachelor in Arts. But in 2014, she declared herself a Bachelor in Commerce. A case was filed against her for making contradictory claims. She also claimed to have a degree from Yale University which she later cleared was a six-day leadership programme.
DU's FYUP programme
Delhi University students and professors gave mixed responses to the roll-back of the four-year university programme, a year after it had been initiated on the order of the HRD minister. The roll-back caused a row between DU and the University Grants Commission which scrapped the programme. However she was lauded in the political circles for her move, with the Congress throwing their weight behind her decision.
The IIT Delhi controversy
In December 2014, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi director RK Shevgaonkar resigned from his post. He apparently resigned over Irani's intervention in the campus affairs, two years before he was due to retire from the post. It was alleged that Irani had asked IIT to release salary due of Rs 70 lakh to former IIT-Delhi faculty - BJP leader Subramanian Swamy. However Irani denied the allegations. She made the claims that Shevgaonkar resigned because he was faulted for setting up an 'illegal' campus in Mauritius.
The IIT Mumbai controversy
In March 2015, the chairman of the IIT Mumbai board, renowned nuclear scientist, Anil Kakodkar resigned. He gave up the post after alleged interference of the HRD ministry in the selection of three IIT directors which was a prerogative of the search committee, according to Kakodkar.
The IIT Madra controversy
IIT Madras de-recognised a students group who were complained against. The Ambedkar Peryar Study Circle (APSC) was accused of being critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and creating a atmosphere of hatred. Irani's stand was unclear for she backed the institutes decision, but later alleged that the ministry had no role to play in the decision and that it was taken solely by the institute.
Good governance day
In December 2014, the HRD ministry sent out a circular to the schools to observe former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's birthday - 25 December - as Good Governance day. This was widely criticised by political pundits because they felt the move was a 'communal design' for it fell on the day of Christmas.
In October 2014, the Board of Governors (BoG) of the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS), headed bu Irani decided to replace German language with Sanskrit. The decision was later commented upon by the Supreme Court who asked the Centre to reconsider the decision as it would put additional burden on students in the middle of the session. This issue was also brought up when Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Narendra Modi at the G-20 summit in November 2014.
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