Educational Qualifications for Cabinet Ministers by Aseem Prakash

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.


3 comments on “Educational Qualifications for Cabinet Ministers by Aseem Prakash

  1. Kirit Patel says:

    Why the education level of only education minister is important. Uma Bharti dropped out from Grade six and has to read all files and expert briefs as the minister. Madhu Kishwar has probably forgotten the tenure of Murali Manohar Joshi (PhD in Physics) as HRD minister during previous NDA government. Joshi had intense rift with IIMs and IITs that partly contributed to NDA’s defeat in election. The level of education of a leader has very little to do with vision, leadership, and competence in problem solving.

    The controversy of Smirti’s education linking with her job as HRD minister, reminds me Gerard Kennedy, education minister of Ontario state (Canada) in 2003. Though Gerard dropped out from the university, and worked with food banks across country, he was one of the successful education ministers of Ontario. As a minister, he effectively managed $18 billion budget annually. Later, he lost bid for the leadership of Liberal party in 2006 but many Canadians still considered him as potential prime minister material.

    It is not simply education level but fluency in English is still considered the indicator of intelligence and competence in India. Indian elites use English as an enclosure for preventing middle class and poor accessing institutions of power. Congress colleagues and Madhu should know that Smriti has at least completed her schooling from an elite English medium school (Holy Child) in Delhi and I am positive that it sufficiently equips her to communicate in English with heads of Universities as well as Congress party!


  2. Jamil says:

    Jamil writes:

    The new HRD minister, the woman who played the quintessential daughter-in-law on TV sitcoms has lost in her attempt to unseat a Gandhi scion. Her journey as a politician has been quite eventful. Her relentless media presence and her reverberant attitude has made her an influential leader. She has been actively involved in an NGO that provides water solutions to villages. She has actively worked and fought for women rights.

    She is now embroiled in a controversy over her educational qualification. She is a mother of five and seems to have a convent school education but no college degree as misrepresented by her in an affidavit. She should be judged by her “capacity to deliver” but held accountable for fudging educational credentials (which is an epidemic in the country)!

  3. Abhishek Srivastava says:

    As we all know, there are different layers/levels of leadership attributes that are essential for a leader to be effective in a given situation. At the basic/fundamental level, a leader must have integrity, reasonably objective decision-making, and good communication skills, among many other attributes that one might list. These basis attributes would be important in virtually any kind of an organization. At a more specific level, a leader (minister in this case) must have prior experience in working in a similar setup (e.g., another ministry), and finally, the most specific would be having knowledge of the technicalities, systems, procedures, etc. of that ministry. Some of these specific attributes might have a connection with one’s educational background. However, one can learn a lot of these specifics through experience. In the absence of a systematic process for leadership training, development, and mentoring, it is perhaps too much to expect that all ministers will meet the basic as well as specific requirements of a particular area in any political party. So, perhaps it is a good idea to ensure that at least the basic attributes are there. If the newcomer is smart enough, s/he will identify knowledgeable insiders to trust/consult. In my humble opinion, apart from anecdotal evidence, this topic is not a resolved issue.

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