A few days ago the mass media was brimming with Mrs. Smriti Irani and the whole debacle about her degree. While I flipped some News channels, I first pondered over the question of educational qualifications in Ministers, following which I moved on to a deeper and a more important issue- transparency in politicians. It is always engrossing yet amusing, to watch the television divided into usually six boxes- where all the “panellists” are shouting at a different baritone- pushing their voice a little more- so that they be heard.
The recently elected Prime Minister- Mr. Narendra Modi allotted the Human Resource Development Ministry to Mrs. Smriti Zubin Irani. Everything appeared alright until Congress released Mrs Irani’s affidavits specifying her educational qualifications. The conflict was in the two affidavits submitted by Mrs Irani, one in 2004 and the other in 2014, her University Degree not being concurrent in both. While many chose to stick to their shameless stand in mocking her competence, some even stooped down low enough to carve out personal attacks on her colourful background as an actor. I looked at my domestic help- thinking that if degrees really made us “wise”, the poor or unprivileged might probably never have a fair chance at disproving their folly!
Abraham Lincoln– 16th President of the United States- strengthened the federal government, modernized the economy, abolished slavery besides a vast multitude of things that he achieved- how qualified was he? He did not even have a college degree and was known to be a self educated lawyer. Harry Truman– two- term President of the United States- even he did not have a college degree. Winston Churchill– one of the greatest statesmen ever born- yet again, had no college degree. Coming to India, K. Kamaraj– “kingmaker” of the 1960s, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, introduced the mid-day meal scheme, a Bharat Ratna Recipient- what qualifications? He never got to attend college. Even Mrs. Indira Gandhi– the fourth Prime Minister of India, called “woman of the millennium” by BBC in 1999, gigantic political figure- could not complete her University education. I can keep extending the list, just saying. The point I am trying to make, is mighty clear- educational qualifications have never really been a pre-requisite for becoming a great statesman or an efficient minister.
Many vociferously argued that HRD ministry requires synchronisation and dialogue with highly qualified professionals and eminent academicians- will a minister who has only completed her matriculation be able to do that? To my knowledge, Mrs. Smriti Irani is a sharp and articulate woman- assuming she is not for some- we should only be permitted to judge her or her credibility, after a given bracket of time. Unless we can really predict her or the HRD ministry’s future in our crystal balls- maybe then we could be so aggressively critical. Also, we are condemning this one affidavit, based on the outlandish assumption that all the educational qualifications ever boasted by every minister until now- have been undoubtedly genuine? Does that not cause an itch?
Is it essential to be an Olympian to be a Sports Minister? Has every Health Minister in our country been a doctor? Or should a Coal Minister be a miner? Minister of Civil Aviation- a helmsman? Maybe Iron man can be the perfect choice for the Ministry of Steel then. Dull jokes apart, it is quite unfair to pounce with big claws on Mrs. Irani. We really need to distinguish between education and wisdom. These two to a great extent, are mutually exclusive. Have we really institutionalised ourselves so much that we have surpassed conveniently, the virtues of self discipline, enlightenment and auto didacticism? Especially we, the educated, cannot nullify the importance of wisdom, experience, leadership and excellence. I sincerely feel that degrees can never be a yardstick for either coherence or excellence. That definitely does not undermine the value of education- it will always be a path to self upliftment and freedom.
The next issue and a very important one at that is the issue of transparency. The opposition asserts that Mrs. Irani has lied under oath, which in itself is an offence, besides her incongruous qualifications in the two affidavits, amounting to perjury. I think the same can be contested in a court of law, and the question of the legality of her actions should be left for the courts to decide.
Politicians, being trustees of the people, are required to be accountable on many counts. So long as the political parties or the politicians are not perfectly transparent, the judgement of the people on the same will be imperfect. Transparency helps fix accountability, filters corruption, assists public review and reduces the scope for abuse of power by the politicians. The true spirit of a participative democracy lies in public debate and discussion, but we should not surpass the fact that it is the story of a real person besides being a political story and no person can be unduly chewed upon on a public forum. Media trials are only good so long as they awaken people from their political slumber but when the issues are dramatised for political motivations, it can threaten the very foundation of a democracy.