Student of the Year


“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” Abraham Lincoln.

Almost 30% of Indian Members of Parliament have criminal records. Many have been in jail, some are out on bail and most are doomed to fail. But only a select few go to Yale. Every year, as part of its India Initiative, Yale invites a small group of Indian MPs to its campus for a one-week Parliamentary Leadership Seminar.  For its next such outing, the organisers would be well advised to start proceedings with the above lesson from Lincoln, as underscored by the outrageously moronic utterances from the program’s most recent “graduate”, Indian Human Resources Minister Smriti Irani.

By all accounts, Ms. Irani seemed like a terrific role model for the millennial Indian woman. From flipping burgers at McDonalds to stardom as a model/actress is vintage Bollywood fare in and of itself. Not content, the ambitious Ms. Irani moved seamlessly into the manly world of politics, breaking through the metaphoric glass ceiling to find her way into India’s Cabinet. As a politician, she is anything but a wallflower: not afraid to take a stand, she threatened to “fast unto death” in protest against Narendra Modi following the Gujarat riots. Meanwhile, she found the time to raise a family as a mother of three in an exemplary cross-religous marriage to a divorced Zoroastrian. All great stuff, and in fact inspirational in many aspects.

Where the redoubtable Ms. Irani completely loses the plot is her evident insecurity about her education, or lack thereof, which of course is supremely ironic for someone who now finds herself responsible for India’s erstwhile Education Ministry. Her papers submitted to the Election Commission in 2004 document that Ms. Irani holds a B.A. degree from Delhi University’s “School of Correspondence”. A cursory glance at the school’s website suggests that aspiring students need only “write their Name and Course applied for on back side of Demand Draft”. Wtf, not exactly a high bar, but fair enough for someone whose aspirations might lie beyond the purely academic. However, eyebrows begin to rise when her filing in 2014 suggests she completed only Part I of a B.Com degree, and the plot thickens when the University’s own records reveal no evidence of any credentials whatsoever. The predictably pathetic response – “ask Sonia Gandhi for her credentials” – completely misses the point, but then the shit really hits the fan. At this point, it likely occurrs to Ms. Irani that if one wishes to prevaricate about one’s schooling, why tout a correspondence course from lowly local Delhi University? Why not an elite phoren degree from Oxford and Cambridge, or Harvard and Yale? Wtf, even Sonia Gandhi gets that!

Following the grand tradition of the Bushes and the Clintons, Italian PM Monti and Mexican President Zedillo, Ms. Irani now proudly announces that she is a Yale graduate. Displaying truly remarkable chutzpah, in a performance befitting Oscar-winning Yalies Meryl Streep and Jodie Foster, Ms. Irani proclaims on national television that “I have a degree from Yale which I can bring out and show how Yale celebrated my leadership”. This of course on the strength of a sightseeing trip to unsightly New Haven for a photo opportunity with Yale President Rick Levin. A true “WTF” moment, even by the standards of India’s degenerate political classes, prompting a torrent of mirth in the Twittershpere. Novelist Shobhaa De wondered if having a Yale lock on her front door qualified her for a Yale degree, but my personal favourite was journalist Madhu Kishwar who described the bosomy Ms. Irani’s New Haven sojourn as a “titsy-bitsy” 6-day course.


All of which would be delightfully amusing were it nor for the sad fact that with this BJP government, we convinced ourselves that this time was different. Seriously. To have a Cabinet minister who makes Sarah Palin sound like Winston Churchill by comparison is a national embarrassment. It’s déjà vu all over again. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The allegorical ship of fools continues to sail. This is yet another Indian tale that makes me want to wail.

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7 Responses to Student of the Year

  1. Brij Singh says:

    Well written piece…

    The sad part is …. This approach is par for the course in politics and she has truly lost the plot..

  2. Mandira says:

    Love all your blogs Alok. India is a disaster and I don’t know why anyone expects anything miraculous from any politician. The basic fabric of the people is crooked to say the least and frankly the leaders they choose are mirroring their base nature.

  3. Mandira says:

    BTW I love the Bollywood imagery….

  4. Suraj Kumar says:

    I cam to this blog after seeing the post on Laal Sitara – enjoyed reading the post and usage of noting more colourful than “WTF” shows that Alok has really mellowed with time ;). On a more serious note, it would be useful to judge people by performance and results rather than by what they say on the idiot box. As a desi denizen, I would like to mention that more educated folk like MM Joshi and Kapil Sibal did not do too well as HRD ministers – the decline in standards of not only higher education but even basic schooling as shown by PRATHAM surveys is staggering. Perhaps, Ms Irani may need time to allow judgement on how she fares as HRD minister. Folk I know who work with her speak highly of her ability to keep her nose out of routine matters and seek probingly into areas where a policy view of the minister is required. She of course has good access to the PM and enjoys confidence. Not say that she doesn’t put foot in mouth but then that is par for course for HRD ministers – Joshi, Singh, Sibal and Raju being the previous four horsemen of India’s education apocalypse. I hope this logn-ish comment is of some use – adding of course that the expansion of education needs to be accompanied by commensurate focus on quality as also revival of the now defunct systems of school and college inspection.

    • thedude888 says:

      Hi Suraj-Good to hear from you, and agree with all you say. I just wish our politicians would conduct themselves with some semblance of dignity. The more fundamental point is outright lying about her education (in an official document) raises some serious questions about her ethics and judgement. Yes, many/most MPs have done worse but to condone it is a symptomatic of a retrograde “after all we are like this only” attitude that is a serious impediment to progress….

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