The Central Information Commission's order asking for full disclosure on Narendra Modi's educational qualifications has returned the spotlight on a needless controversy. And it has put the prime minister in a tight spot.
Ironically, it was the Prime Minister's Office that sparked the controversy in the first place. In July 2015, the PMO declined an RTI request for publicising Modi's educational qualifications. The Election Commission, too, refused to provide the details as did the Delhi and Gujarat universities from where Modi apparently took the degrees from.
In April 2016, the CIC ordered the PMO to disclose the details, triggering a media spectacle wherein top BJP leaders released Modi's degree certificates at a press conference in May. That did not put the issue to rest as the BJP would have hoped. Instead, suspicions only grew as discrepancies were pointed out in the details provided by the party. Soon, another RTI request was made for details of all students who had graduated from the Delhi University in 1978, the purported year of Modi's graduation.
It's this list that the CIC has now ordered the DU to make public, ruling that the information about the educational qualifications of a student - former or current - constitutes public interest.
Buck stops with the PM
It's unfortunate that the academic background of a constitutional functionary should be a matter of controversy. But the prime minister has his own office to blame as it was the PMO's refusal to provide the information that sparked the row. The PMO could have ended, once and for, all speculations through a full disclosure. By refusing to do so, it unnecessarily created the impression it had something to hide. Other institutions approached for these details perhaps took the cue from the PMO and responded similarly. Then, politics took over. The opposition turned the heat up on the government, turning the issue into a mud-slinging match.
India, which is yet to attain even 75% literacy, doesn't attach much premium to degrees as a requirement for contesting elections. Indeed, less than half of the sitting MPs in the Lok Sabha are graduates; 13% are under-matriculates and 10% matriculates. There is, thus, no need for any democratically-elected leader to feel sheepish about his or her educational qualification, or lack of it.
It's time Modi accepts this controversy is largely his fault, and use his famed oratory skills to speak out clearly on the subject to end all speculation about it. India needs to move on from this.