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6 times Smriti Irani scored an A+ in controversy as HRD head

Speed News Desk | Updated on: 6 July 2016, 14:25 IST

As Minister of Human Resource Development, Smriti Irani left no stone unturned to become the most talked about minister of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Union Cabinet. From her regular Twitter tirades, to her fiery speeches in Parliament, Irani made sure to hog headlines throughout her two-year-long tenure as the head of the Education ministry.

In a major reshuffle on 5 July, Irani was moved to the textile industry, leaving Prakash Javadekar to take over as Education minister.

While Irani has been lauded for a few of her initiatives in the field of education, it remains to be said that she has also been the cause of a number of sleepless nights for educationists and students across India.

During her tumultuous tenure, Nuclear scientist Anil Kakodkar resigned as the chairperson of IIT-Mumbai board. The director of IIT-Delhi followed suit, alleging that the HRD was needlessly interfering in internal matters.

Here is a look at the six major controversies that kept Irani in the news for all the wrong reasons in the last two years:

1) Her academic qualifications

Smriti Irani's educational qualifications came under scrutiny immediately after she took charge of the ministry in May 2014. Critics accused the government of handing over the country's education portfolio to a person who had not even attended college.

In her April 2004 affidavit to the Election Commission, Irani said that she completed her Bachelors in 1996 through a long-distance/correspondence programme from Delhi University. She also claimed to have a degree from Yale University. The varsity later clarified that she had only attended a week-long programme, the India-Yale Parliamentary Leadership Program, in 2013.

2) Rohith Vemula

Irani faced huge public outrage over her handling of the suicide of Hyderabad Central University Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula. To add fuel to the fire, Opposition alleged that the HRD ministry pushed for the punishment of Dalit students, including Vemula, by sending five reminders to the Hyderabad university's vice-chancellor.

3) JNU-Afzal Guru row

Irani also came under fire from the Opposition for allegedly distorting facts in connection with the event held at Jawaharlal Nehru University to commemorate the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru. She was also blamed for backing the centre's aggressive actions involving the JNU students who were accused of raising 'anti-national' slogans inside the campus.

4) IIT-Madras ban

A controversy erupted last year when a letter from HRD ministry to IIT-Madras led to the ban of the Ambedkar Periyar group, a student's discussion forum that was critical of Prime Minister Modi. The ministry allegedly forwarded an anonymous letter to the institution asking why such forums were allowed in the campus.

5) 'Separate' canteens in IIT

In another case, the HRD allegedly tried to "police" the food habits of students after reports emerged that it had asked the IITs to have separate eating spaces and mess for vegetarian students.

6) Sanskrit in IITs and Kendriya Vidyalayas

Irani suggested that IITs introduce Sanskrit in their syllabus. She also set up a committee to promote Sanskrit in educational institutions. Under her watchful eye, the HRD ministry replaced German with Sanskrit as the third language in Kendriya Vidyalayas. The issue boiled over into a diplomatic crisis, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel raising the matter with Prime Minister Modi when they met at the G-20 summit in Brisbane in November 2014.

First published: 6 July 2016, 14:25 IST