Smriti Irani’s controversy-filled journey from textbooks to textiles and I&B

Smriti Irani has stumbled from controversy to controversy after becoming the youngest cabinet minister in the Narendra Modi government in 2014. The ‘fake news’ self goal was only the latest

Photo by Arun Sharma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Arun Sharma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

NH Web Desk

Be it her tenure at the HRD or textile ministries, Union Minister Smriti Irani has never been a stranger to controversies. On April 3, as Information and Broadcasting minister, Irani had to rescind an order amending PIB accreditation guidelines for combating fake news, following an intervention by the Prime Minister’s Office, in face of widespread criticism by senior journalists and Opposition parties. The I&B ministry order targeted the mainstream media and not ‘news’ websites, where much fake news is generated.

But this was not the first time Irani hogged headlines for wrong reasons. She has courted controversy after controversy ever since she became the youngest cabinet minister in the Narendra Modi government in May 2014. Here are just some of the controversies that have dogged Smriti Irani during her tenures in different ministries:

Smriti Irani as HRD Minister

Irani’s brief stint as Human Resource Development minister was marked by controversies, seeing widespread protests from Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi to Hyderabad Central University.

Protests erupted in many universities in 2015 against discontinuation of the non-NET scholarship for students undertaking research programmes. Many protesting students were detained and manhandled by the police in several varsities, including JNU.

Her melodramatic speech in Parliament which targeted BSP chief Mayawati on the issue of suicide by Dalit scholar Rohit Vemula, left her a laughing stock. “If you are not satisfied with my reply, your party leaders and workers can behead me and place my head at your feet,” she had said in her speech. The video of the speech can be seen below.

She decided to replace German with Sanskrit as a third language in Kendriya Vidyalaya schools. The matter triggered a diplomatic row, prompting German Chancellor Angela Merkel to take up the issue with PM Modi at the G-20 summit a month later.

Allegedly, she treated many VCs of prestigious universities like “school-going children”. AMU VC Lt Gen (retd) Zameer Uddin Shah had claimed that he was denied an appointment by Irani as HRD minister for almost a year, till the PM intervened. Shah later in an interview to the Indian Express said that in January 2016 Irani asked him to leave a meeting in the presence of ex-Kerala CM Oommen Chandy and Lok Sabha MP ET Mohammed Basheer.

She was again accused of interference leading to the resignation of Professor RK Shevgaonkar as IIT Delhi director and nuclear scientist Anil Kakodkar as chairman of IIT Bombay.

She was also accused of appointing RSS functionaries in key decision making posts at University Grants Commission, Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology, Nagpur and National Book Trust.

Smriti Irani as Textile Minister

Less than two months of taking charge of the Textiles Ministry, Smriti Irani was at loggerheads with her most senior bureaucrat Rashmi Verma, with even the PMO stepping in to resolve the differences, said a media report in August 2016. Quoting sources, The Indian Express had reported that Irani issued more than two dozen notes over the two days, seeking Textiles Secretary Verma’s response on a range of issues — from the procedural and the administrative to those related to policy. She was reportedly upset with a file not being sent directly to her but being routed via Verma.

Smriti Irani as I&B Minister

In August 2017, Irani issued a public admonishment to the Press Trust of India on Twitter. She was offended by a picture tweeted by the news agency, which showed two men wearing masks of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar tying rakhis on the the wrists of two men wearing masks of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This photo accompanied a PTI article captioned: “CM @Nitish Kumar urges Center to allocate funds liberally to strengthen subordinate judiciary in Bihar to provide speedy justice to litigants”.

The minister, infuriated by the photo, tweeted: “@PTI_News is this how elected heads will be projected? Is this your official stand?” PTI not only deleted the image immediately but also apologised for “hurting sentiments”.

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