Smriti Irani was not the best human resource development minister the country
has had (though names of some of her predecessors like Arjun Singh also do not
evoke much respect). Many think she was a walking-talking disaster and they are
entitled to their opinion. But, there is absolutely no doubt that she has
spunk. And, therein hangs a tale.
cannot easily recall when the portfolio change of a Cabinet minister caused so
much of elation and merriment - almost putting into shade all other changes in
a mega Cabinet rejig. A leading daily carried the headline "Smriti Irani
dropped", forgetting or ignoring the fact that she had been moved (or call
it "shunted") to a ministry that oversees an industry that is the second largest
employer in India after
liberal intellectual establishment and its friends in the media can barely hide
their glee (not that they are trying particularly hard).
the nastiest jibes are coming from women - educated and accomplished by all
accounts, some of them cultural czarinas in their own rights. Many of the quips
and tweets are downright distasteful, which would have surely set the internet
on fire if used against any of them.
woman TV journalist was tickled to bits when a cerebral celebrity she was
interviewing regaled her with an apocryphal anecdote of Irani snapping at an
IIT director: "Why are you asking so many questions - are you a TV
banner headline in mainstream newspapers calling her "Spinderella",
which defies all standards of editorial decorum and should have left feminists
fuming; have been lauded as "epic" by doyens of the profession.
before Irani became a minister, she has been a butt of jokes (such as those on
the XXXL size of her dresses - the famous Fabindia episode in Goa) and people
have not stopped short of making innuendos about her personal life.
women who champion the cause of gender equality in all walks of life have made
not-so-subtle suggestions about her rise to power for considerations other than
merit. Similar insinuations about one of their ilk would have been met with
angry outrage about misogyny in public life. The uncouth remarks about her by
the likes of Sanjay Nirupam do not even merit mention.
what makes Irani the "bahu" (advisedly not calling her
"aunty") that all sisters-in-law love to hate?
she is not the first woman politician with a streak of arrogance - nay,
haughtiness. There have been many queen bees of the political circuit. Granted,
she did not have commensurate academic qualifications to be the HRD minister
(if it is indeed a pre-requisite to head the ministry) and we shall not get
into the predictable argument about the credentials of some other politicians
of stature either.
problem with Irani is similar to that of her perceived mentor - the prime
minister himself. Both are considered as lacking political pedigree and outsiders
in Delhi. They are first-timers in the government - compared to say a Sushma
Swaraj or Arun Jaitley. Therefore, in her, opponents see a surrogate of
Narendra Modi - and by attacking Irani they are hitting back at the big man by
as the HRD minister, she was instrumental in striking at the root of the
traditional bastions of academia and culture that have since independence
remained the exclusive preserve of a privileged class nurtured in the Nehruvian
ecosystem. That an alternate narrative could even exist was beyond the
imagination of this pampered lot, who saw it almost as an assault on their
fundamental right to life.
in the same symbiotic universe is a very influential community. This is the set
that Modi recently referred to as a section of the media who never thought he
could become the prime minister and is still not able to digest the fact.
by extension, the ire of this community falls on Irani. And, with good reason -
for other than Modi himself - Irani is perhaps the only minister who has dared
to take on the hostile media head-on. There are few as articulate as her in the
BJP in one-on-one engagements with the media. Her sharp reactions on social
media might appear petulant and immature drawing her more flak, but they never
fail to rattle her detractors.
cardinal sin Irani committed was not just contesting the scion of the
Nehru-Gandhi dynasty in his family fiefdom, but bringing him precariously close
to biting the dust. Even after the elections she has shown no signs of
relenting and continues to nurture her adopted constituency with passion, much
to the discomfort of the local political managers of the "family".
besides Modi and BJP national president Amit Shah, she is the most vocal
against the "dynasty", which resonates deeply in her stunning
speeches in Parliament always hitting hard where it hurts the
for this that she will remain a target as long as Modi himself remains a threat
for the Gandhis. It would not be far-fetched to conjecture that the anti-Modi
factions within the BJP and RSS have also been adding fuel to the fire to get
even with the "boss".
in their enthusiasm, most people have missed nuances and sub-texts that only
some astute observers have picked up.First,
by no means is textile a lightweight ministry. In the next phase of the Modi
sarkar, economic reforms will be much more important than a cultural
revolution. For that, someone bold and with high energy will be an asset,
especially to bring in much needed labour reforms in the industry.
doesn't mean the BJP's core ideological agenda will be abandoned. For that, a
Prakash Javadekar groomed in RSS akharas, unlike a lateral entrant like Irani,
is an apposite choice.
opposition and intrigue has only augmented Modi's meteoric rise. The same may
also work for Irani, particularly if she is able to prove her worth as a star
campaigner for the BJP in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh elections. Here, she can
be the BJP's trump card and an answer to Priyanka Gandhi's charisma that the
Congress is so heavily banking upon.
on Wednesday (July 6), when she was assuming office in the textile ministry,
the media arrived in hordes. She did not miss the opportunity to have a dig at
them: "It may be the first time that many of you have come to this
not anybody else, at least the Banarasi sari weavers in Modi's constituency
should be happy with her move to the textiles ministry.