Friday, 30 May 2014

L'affaire Smriti Irani

L'affaire Smriti Irani
“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
― Mark Twain

There have been many attacks and criticisms on the appointment of Smt. Smriti Irani as Human Resources Development (HRD, which includes Education) Minister. Some, especially from a section of the Congress, are motivated—don’t let go an opportunity to slam the government in power, now that you are in the opposition.

However, there are criticisms that are well-intentioned and also carry strong logic.

Then, there have been defenders too. Defend, whatever the government does, because you are either in the government, or belong to BJP or NDA, or are backers of BJP.

However, like many well-intentioned critics, there are many well-intentioned defenders, who too have strong logic on their side.

Let’s therefore look at the issue from both the sides. It would also have been noticed that not all critics and not all supporters have identical logic. There are differing reasons why a certain set of people oppose and why a certain group supports. Let’s therefore look at the various arguments of both the sides. And, for each argument of each of the sides, let’s also put a counterpoint.


Critics: HRD/Education ministry requires a well-educated person to head it, for he/she alone can appreciate the requirements and do justice to them.

Counterpoint: Concretely, “well-educated” means ...?

Critics: “Well-educated” means a person with some good degree from  a prestigious college or university.

Counterpoint: You mean a Ph.D. from Harvard, MIT, ...?

Critics: No. It could even be a graduation or post-graduation from IIT or ...

Counterpoint: Would graduation from Delhi University or any other university or college in India do?

Critics: Yes. But, more educated, with higher and higher degrees, the better. Even better if from relatively prestigious colleges/universities.

Counterpoint: What about BA from some little-known college say in Odisha, UP or Bihar?

Critics: Frankly, had the person been at least a graduate, irrespective of the nature of the degree or the college, the matter would NOT have been blown up into an issue—even if the graduation was through correspondence.

Counterpoint: Fine, so a graduate in any discipline from any college is fine in the sense one would not have made it an issue.

Critics: Yes.

Counterpoint: What about some diploma rather than graduation?

Critics: Well...

Counterpoint: Anyway, are we then saying that there may be a big difference between a 12-pass/junior college from Delhi University or some other college/university and a graduate even through correspondence from a little-known college say in Odisha, UP or Bihar—big enough to decide whether or not to make her/him an HRD minister?

Critics: At least graduation. Graduation does matter.

Counterpoint: Does being say a BCom contributes towards a person being a more capable HRD minister?

Why, even if the person is say a B.Tech.(Chemical) from IIT? He may perhaps throw some light on how to better courses in Chemical Engineering; but can he say anything authoritatively about the courses in Information Technology, Agricultural Engineering, MBBS, MBA, and so on?

Critics: A well-educated person, at least a graduate, is likely to grasp and analyse issues better, and take better decisions.

Counterpoint: So, the real qualities are: Is the person intelligent, analytical and capable of taking decisions? You are linking these qualities with graduation as the minimum qualification. That is fallacious. Even a double or triple post-graduate may NOT be intelligent and analytical. And, a Ph.D. may be averse to taking decisions. A person who may be at the bottom of her/his class may be more intelligent than the topper.

There are any number of examples of persons who didn’t earn a college degree but did brilliantly in their fields: Bill Gates, Steven Jobs, Walt Disney, Thomas Edison, George Washington, Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, Tagore, Dhirubhai Ambani,... Benjamin Franklin had a total of only 4 years of schooling between 8 and 12 years of age, and then he was withdrawn from school as his father could not afford it. Yet, he was a genius in multiple fields: freedom fighter, administrator, diplomat, politician, writer, reformer, and most surprising of all—a great physicist and inventor!

Kamraj, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were not graduates. Sonia Gandhi, Maneka Gandhi, Uma Bharati, Gajapati Raju, Sharad Pawar and many other MPs are non-graduates.

Counterpoint: There are say 100 different items to tackle in HRD: Courses in Medicine, different branches of engineering; Arts, History, Geography; Literacy; Primary, Middle, Secondary and Higher Education; Research; Diplomas; Skill-building; ....

A highly educated person selected would at best be an expert in one or two of the 100 different fields. What about others?

Further, an expert in her/his field may actually be a very poor administrator or co-ordinator. And, even if she/he is also a good manager, she/he may be lacking in commitment, passion and change.

Counterpoint: The points to be considered and answered are the following.

What is Smriti Irani’s track-record? What has she done or achieved so far?

Well, she has been a top TV star. It is not a joke to survive intense competition in the field. Her survival in the TV industry and in rising to the top would not have been possible without talent, guts, hard-work, persistence, facing and tackling the odds, human-management skills, passion, devotion and commitment.

She then worked in a senior post in BJP organisation, and as Modi mentioned in his speech in Amethi, she did justice to the various tasks allocated to her in the organisation and in distant villages. Such success again requires talent, intelligence, analytical skills, guts, hard-work, persistence, ability to face and tackle odds, and managerial and competitive spirit to succeed in whatever is allocated.

She became BJP spokesperson, and did an excellent job of it on TV, with remarkable felicity in both Hindi and English. Does that not require intelligence, grasp, analytical skills, and guts to face up to difficult questions?

She was then sent to Amethi to fight against Rahul Gandhi. Anybody else would have taken it as a punishment and would have refused it. But, she took up the challenge and gave a good fought. Shows her application and willingness to take up challenges.

Would a graduation or a post-graduation or a Ph.D. ever given her the kind of skills, training and experience the above assignments gave her? Is such training more relevant to her as a minister or a degree?

Counterpoint: If educational expertise is necessary for HRD ministry, what about the others? Should Health Minister be necessarily a doctor; Defence Minister a person from Army, Navy or Air-force; Minister for Agriculture an agriculturist; IT Minister an expert in Information Technology; Aviation Minister a pilot; Minister of Mines a mining engineer; Commerce Minister a businessperson; Industry Minister an industrialist; Surface Transport Minister a civil engineer; Shipping Minister a naval engineer; ...

While an expertise would always be helpful, the necessary knowledge to manage the affairs of a ministry can be acquired if one is intelligent.

Of course, if one is both an expert and also measures up to the “Aspect-7” listed below, nothing like it.

Counterpoint: Qualities really relevant are the following:

Intelligence. Quick-learner. Grasp. Analytical Ability. Being Innovative.

Administrative/Managerial Competence. Person-management skills. Conflict management. Decision-taking ability.

Ability to motivate people with talent and expertise, and utilise their services. Ability to maximise utilisation of available human resources.

Ability to prioritise, set goals and ensure adherence to time-lines.

Hard-work. Passion. Commitment. Honesty. Integrity.

Defenders: Educational qualifications are irrelevant. Education does not matter.

Counterpoint: No. Educational qualifications are always helpful. Apart from education, the process of acquiring educational qualifications (being in a college/university) gives lots of helpful exposure.

So, education does matter. However, if relevant qualities have been acquired otherwise, that is also fine.

If there are two persons both with all the relevant qualities listed in “Aspect-7” and one is highly educated, while the other is a non-graduate, then surely the highly-educated person is preferable. However, if a non-graduate scores higher on “Aspect-7” compared to a Ph.D., then that non-graduate is preferable.

Counterpoint: A person may be highly educated and may even score well on “Aspect-7” above, except that she/he may lack drive, devotion, hard-work, passion and commitment. In that case she/he would not succeed.

Example: Kapil Sibal.

Of course, whether Smriti Irani was a good choice, only future can tell. But, let us hope for the best, and let us give her at least six months.

Rajnikant Puranik

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