Smriti Irani was subject to a lot of public outrage and opposition attack over the suicide of Rohit Vemula, a Hyderabad University scholar. Rohith had hung himself on campus on January 17, days after he was banned from the hostel and other common areas on the campus for allegedly attacking an activist of the BJP-linked ABVP. The opposition alleged that the HRD Ministry had sent five reminders to university’s Vice Chancellor on a complaint against Rohith from parliamentarian Bandaru Dattatreya. She was also accused of distorting facts while making a speech in Parliament over the issue.
Irani also faced flak as controversy over alleged seditious activities on the campus of the Jawaharlal Nehru University. She also was singled out for attack by the Congress after she read out a JNU pamphlet word-by-word. Congress members trooped into the well of the House over some of the pamphlet’s content, which they claimed contained derogatory references to Goddess Durga. Opposition parties later demanded an apology for her ‘blasphemous’ comments, which she rejected, saying she is a worshipper of Durga and read aloud offensive things about the deity in Parliament on Thursday merely to prove a point.
The degree dilemma
Irani’s educational qualifications came under the scanner immediately after she took charge of the HRD Ministry. A case was filed against her alleging that she had made contradictory declarations when she contested Lok Sabha elections in 2004 and 2014. As a candidate in 2004 elections from Chandni Chowk in Delhi, Irani had declared that she had a Bachelor of Arts degree. “B.A. 1996 Delhi University (School of Correspondence)”, she had written in the column which seeks details of University education and the year in which the course was completed. In the same column of the affidavit filed in the 2014 elections from Amethi, Irani has said,”Bachelor of Commerce Part-1, School of Open Learning (Correspondence), University of Delhi-1994″. Irani’s claim to have a degree from Yale University was also highly criticised. The university later clarified that she had only attended a week-long programme, India-Yale Parliamentary Leadership Program, in 2013.
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, 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 raising the matter with Prime Minister Modi.
Delhi University’s FYUP rollback
In 2014, the infamous four-year university programme of the Delhi University invited vitriolic responses from various platforms. Critics called it an attempt by Irani’s ministry to impose its decision on an autonomous institution. The programme, which was shunned in 2014, had been implemented just for a year. Delhi University colleges, slowly but surely then started switching back from the controversial four-year undergraduate programme (FYUP) to the three-year course.
Controversy over appointment of IIT directors
Last year, nuclear scientist Anil Kakodkar resigned as the chairperson of IIT-Mumbai apparently because of differences with the HRD ministry over selection of some IIT directors. Kakodkar alleged that the HRD ministry had been interfering in the selection of IIT directors.