Ajay Maken and Madhu Kishwar have ignited a major debate on the educational qualifications for cabinet ministers. They believe that Smirti Irani should not be named the HRD minister because she does not have a college degree.
Manish Tiwari is already trying to diffuse the debate. Maken will probably backtrack soon because the BJP has raised the question of educational qualifications of Sonia Gandhi, a sensitive subject for Congress (recall Maken’s somersault, first defending the Ordinance on convicted lawmakers and then opposing it once Rahul Gandhi “rubbished” it).
I’m disappointed that a sensible person such as Madhu made this remark.
The issue is more profound. What makes a good minister? To what extent technical knowledge is necessary for specific ministries?
In my perspective, the necessity of formal educational qualifications for Ministerial positions is overblown. For one, the quality of education varies dramatically across Indian universities. I don’t want to offend anyone but there are large number of Indian universities which should not be allowed to serve as universities. Teachers do not teach classes. Over the years, I have heard this from a very large number of people who have studied even in the prestigious Delhi University.
Cheating in exams is rampant. When Rajnath Singh was the Education Ministers of UP (Kalyan Singh was the CM), he cracked down on cheating. There was a massive protest. Some of the prominent present day politicians lead the protest. Thus, BA or MA degrees are poor signals of levels of education, and certainly poor predictors of Ministerial competence.
Irani or anybody else should be judged by their performance. To the best of my knowledge, the HRD Minister is not required to have specialized technical knowledge to serve as an effective minister.
Irani is articulate and smart. I’m sure she can handle the Vice Chancellors and other functionaries which the HRD Minister has to deal with (as somebody said, sabko line per rakhegee).
Hopefully, India has moved beyond pedigree-focused mentality. When Vijay Kumar won a silver medal in 2012 Olympics, the Army Chief said: “We will provide all help to him as he is very capable … he talks in English and is very educated and has the capabilities to become an officer.” This sort of elitism might be tolerated in the Army; it will not be tolerated in contemporary politics. I wonder what the Army Chief will think of the accent of the new PM. Would he consider Modi to be officer material?
2014 elections signal the end of an old order. New Delhi elites will not reconcile easily. I expect more of this in the future.