Smriti Irani, India’s controversial Minister of Human Resource Development (HRD) – which includes the country’s higher education sector – was removed from Prime Minister (PM) Modi’s Cabinet on Tuesday, causing education professionals and students across the country rejoice at her demotion.
The move forms part of PM Modi’s plan to expand his Cabinet and instigate a major redistribution of portfolios in a bid to send his party an important political message. The PM incited almost two dozen changes in Government portfolios, besides inducting 19 new ministers.
— EconomicTimes (@EconomicTimes) July 6, 2016
After losing her prestigious Cabinet rank, Irani has been demoted to a position in the Textiles Ministry, a manoeuvre that took political analysts by surprise. Modi’s Cabinet overhaul will put a stop to Irani’s aggressive interactions with university students and representatives, and what has often been described as her promotion of a nationalist Hindu agenda within university curricula.
Earlier today, prominent historian Ram Guha told NDTV that Irani’s removal was long overdue, deeming her approach “a deadly combination of arrogance and ignorance”.
Irani had also received significant criticism for her handling of campus unrest at Hyderabad Central University following the suicide of Dalit student Rohith Vemula earlier this year, as well as for her involvement in student protests at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, where Kanhaiya Kumar was infamously arrested on charges of sedition.
Image via AP. Activists of Left parties and allies shout slogans while burning effigies of Union Ministers Smriti Irani and Bandaru Dattatreya during a protest against the death of Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad, India, Friday, Jan 22, 2016.
Professor Guha told NDTV that Irani failed to accept that university campuses must be centres of questioning, discourse and independent thinking, noting that: “Both Hyderbad and JNU have a first-rate science faculty, but she was against them because she thought they were communist campuses.”
Political representatives in New Delhi suggest that these two events were the leading cause of her demise, leaving both the Minister and her party – the Bharatiya Janata Party – incredibly unpopular among Dalits and the younger generations; groups that are crucial to the political campaign in the run up to the elections.
Professor Guha, who has previously taught at Yale and the London School of Economics, claims the former HRD Minister has been the source of considerable damage to her Ministry’s credibility since her promotion to the role back in 2014.
— Smriti Z Irani (@smritiirani) July 6, 2016
Labelling her “whimsical” with policies that constantly changed, Guha told NDTV that the academic community would “welcome her exit”, while stating that her replacement, Prakash Javadekar is “polite, at least, and respects scholars and scientists”.
However, Guha warns that the new Minister must avoid influence from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist organisation with a purported objective to uphold Hindu values and a conservative agenda, or otherwise risk suffering a similar fate to that of his predecessor.
Kanhaiya Kumar, President of JNU, also warned the new Minister not to go against the interests of the students. In an open letter to Javadekar, Kumar wrote: ““You already announced that you will be following in the footsteps of your predecessor – which means campus violence will continue and deaths of Dalit scholars will go [on] unabated and allocation of funds in every budget will shrink. Don’t allow that to happen.”
Following the announcement of Irani’s removal, education professionals and students across the nation took to social media to have their voices heard:
Indian Universities reacting to Smriti Irani ‘s exit from HRD ministry.
— Chetan Joshi (@jossolid) July 5, 2016
Smriti Irani shunted out of HRD ministry is the single biggest reform done by Modi for the educational system of India.
— manish sharma (@manusharma0145) July 5, 2016
In Feb, PM had tweeted HRD minister Smriti Irani’s speech in LokSabha on #RohithVemula. Cabinet reshuffle shows “RTs are not endorsements”
— T S Sudhir (@Iamtssudhir) July 6, 2016
UNESCO has declared Indian Textile Ministry as the best Ministry in this world. Congratulations. Proud of Smriti Irani. Jai Hind
— Joy (@Joydas) July 5, 2016
Sad part about removing Smriti Irani is that no one trolls the textile minister. Going to miss her Twitter repartee.
Modi, you genius!
— Pierre Fitter (@pierrefitter) July 5, 2016
No HRD feelings, Prakash Javadekar to Smriti Irani, probably.
— Rituparna Chatterjee (@MasalaBai) July 5, 2016
Maulana Azad and Pt Nehru giving each other chocolate to celebrate Smriti Irani being removed as Education Minister. pic.twitter.com/nFU6xOUsLX
— Nehr-who? (@threeinchfooll) July 5, 2016
— Rofl Peace Gandhi (@RoflGandhi_) July 5, 2016
Modi right now. Poor Smriti Irani. pic.twitter.com/9n0VZCZiaM
— Karan Talwar (@BollywoodGandu) July 5, 2016
Supporters maintain that Irani’s achievements in her two years as Cabinet Minister were not always negative, citing the inaugural ranking of Indian universities as her landmark success.
Irani officially stepped down from her post on Wednesday, describing her time as India’s HRD Minister as “satisfactory and fruitful”.
Image via AP Images.