New Delhi: Smriti Irani's educational qualifications led to a full-blown war of words between the Congress and the BJP, as the former Wednesday intensified protest against an "undergraduate" being appointed human resource development minister whereas the BJP countered it with questions on Sonia Gandhi's academic background.
HRD minister Smriti Irani. File pic
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said there is a need to debate the appropriateness of Irani being given a portfolio which had earlier been held by luminaries such as Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and senior politicians like Karan Singh, V.P. Singh and BJP's Murli Manohar Joshi.
Although BJP dubbed the Congress apprehension as "frustration" stemming out from "worst ever electoral defeat", Congress went on to claim the 38-year-old Irani lied about her degrees.
Singhvi said that in her affidavit when she was contesting the 2004 Lok Sabha election, Irani had mentioned her qualification as bachelors of arts (BA) which she passed in 1996 from Delhi University's school of correspondence, but in her affidavit for this year's Lok Sabha elections, mentioned her educational qualification as "Bachelor of Commerce Part I, School of Open Learning (Correspondence), University of Delhi - 1994."
"The first issue is misstatement. Was the affidavit wrong? Only BJP can explain it," he said.
Incidentally, Irani lost both the Lok Sabha elections. She is at present a member of the Rajya Sabha.
Answering queries, Singhvi said the party was not targeting Irani personally over her educational qualification, but noted that the human resource development minister heads the boards of premier institutions such as the IITs and IIMs.
Party spokesman Ajay Maken - whose tweet: "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!" - sparked off the controversy, said that he agreed that no qualification was mandatory to be in public life but the party was raising the point about Irani's "appropriateness" for the post.
On the other hand, Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti tried to shift attention to Congress president Gandhi, whose academic qualifications too had been in contention in the past.
"What is Sonia Gandhi's qualification?" Bharti asked media persons here.
Congress leader Rashid Alvi meanwhile told IANS that there were only 10 ministers in the union cabinet who were either graduates or post-graduates.
Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi brushed off the allegation, saying the Congress was still holding on to its "arrogance" which cost it the Lok Sabha election recently.
"The Congress lost the Lok Sabha polls because of its arrogance, and yet the party is showing no signs to remain humble," Naqvi told IANS.
The row over the actor-turned-politician emerged after activist and BJP sympathiser Madhu Kishwar described Irani's appointment as an avoidable "grahan" (eclipse).
"Smriti Irani's appointment not the only one disappointing or controversial but it's like an avoidable grahan on a bright and shining rising sun!" she tweeted Wednesday.