New Delhi: HRD Minister Smriti Irani was on Wednesday at the centre of a raging controversy over her educational qualification after it emerged that she had made contradictory declarations when she contested Lok Sabha elections in 2004 and 2014.
The Congress, one of whose leaders struck a different note, escalated its attack while the BJP hit back asking answers from it about the educational qualifications of Sonia Gandhi.
Smriti Irani looks on as senior BJP leader Raj Purohit speaks to then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi. File Pic
Ever since, Madhu Kishwar, a women's rights activist, raked up a controversy over the fact that Irani, just a 12th pass, has been made HRD Minister the issue has only snowballed.
The 38-year-old television actor-turned politician though has preferred to keep mum and even refused to comment when the media approached her.
There was more embarrassment for the BJP and the new government after it emerged that Irani had given contradictory declarations in her affidavits in 2004 and 2014 when she contested Lok Sabha election from two different constituencies.
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".
In 2012, the Supreme Court had ruled that false disclosures in an affidavit can be a ground for rejection of a candidate's nomination.
Latching on the issue, the Congress party said this was a mis-statement, distortion and a criminal offence which has electoral consequences.
"We don't know which is correct--2004 or 2014? Both can't be true," party Spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi told reporters.
When asked about Congress raising educational qualifications of ministers in a democracy, he said, "we had not raked it up and we are not trivialising it".
To another query about Sonia Gandhi's qualification, he shot back,"she is not a minister."
Irani, however, got support from JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav who attacked Congress for raking up the issue.
Kishwar, who started it all with her tweets critical of Narendra Modi making Irani the HRD Minister, was unsparing saying education and research in India was in a shambles and something urgent was needed to be done to lift standards in the system.
"Somebody with a vision was needed for the job," said Kishwar, a self-confessed admirer of Modi.
Kishwar said that as someone in the academia she felt that the HRD ministry was a very "vital" ministry and that India's education sector was in a mess and somebody with a vision was needed.
"The HRD ministry requires handling chief ministers, because education is a state subject and also requires handling vice chancellors," she said.
"HRD needs a head who can steer dexterously between Left and Right extremists in academia to define sensible course unfettered by partisan agendas," she had said on Twitter.
Slamming the Congress, Union Minister Uma Bharti questioned the educational qualification of its party president Sonia Gandhi.
"I want to ask them (Congress) what are the educational qualifications of Sonia Gandhi, because she has headed the UPA and gave directions to the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The entire UPA government would stand with folded hands outside her door. So Sonia Gandhi, who ran the UPA government, what are her qualifications," Bharti asked.
Another minister Santosh Gangwar said he wants to ask Congress how educated was its president Sonia Gandhi.
Joining issues, BJP spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said Congress leaders should shed their "arrogance" after the party's defeat in the Lok Sabha polls and do introspection.
He said the party was defeated in elections due to the "arrogance" of Congress leaders but they are still not ready to leave their arrogance.
"Congress leaders should now stop using abusive words against BJP leaders. Congress should respect the mandate of the people," he said.
Congress leader Ajay Maken yesterday took a jibe at Irani's educational qualification. "What a Cabinet of Modi? HRD Minister (looking after education) Smriti Irani is not even a graduate! Look at her affidavit at ECI site pg 11," he had tweeted yesterday.
Bharti said Congress had raised questions about her candidature from Jhansi in the past by saying that she belonged to Madhya Pradesh and was making a similar mistake in this case.
"First the Congress should show certificates of Sonia Gandhi to show how educated she is and from where. Only then they can ask such questions (about Irani)," Bharati said.
She said that it was not necessary that a health minister should be a doctor but what matters is how a person works.
"Sonia Gandhi should tell about her certificates or else stop Congress from making such comments," she demanded.
However, senior Congress leader Manish Tewari had a different take on the issue when he said any attack on the government should be on substance and not superficials.
He said that these kind of remarks used to emanate from the BJP in the early 2000s but had got decisively buried after UPA's two successive victories under her leadership.
"If anybody is attempting to question the political sagacity of Sonia Gandhi, I think possibly they are blowing a trumpet which nobody is interested in," Tewari said.
However, to a question on the Irani controversy, Tewari felt that criticism of the government should be policy based rather than personality centric.