“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.