Degrees and democracy rarely cross path

Questioning Smriti Irani’s qualifications for being an HRD minister is why we need to understand democracy all over again.


Shivangi Narayan | May 28, 2014

Not even getting into the debate of “was Indira Gandhi qualified enough to be the Prime Minister of India” or “what qualifications does Sonia Gandhi have to be whatever”, the whole debate regarding Smriti Irani, current union HRD minister, and her qualifications for being an HRD minister should be viewed in the light of who is fit to administrate and not who is most educated.

India has been conceived on the principles of representative democracy, one where people elect their representative to make decisions on their behalf in the government.

These representatives need to be “qualified” enough to bring the issues of the people in the government. Nowhere does this entail the necessity of a PhD degree.

The beauty of a democracy is that it allows theoretically anyone to be a ruler. There are certain gatekeeping criteria of course, but they are purely logistical. Such as being able to be sober enough to sit through the proceedings of a parliament and be able to ask questions. This is because a democracy, which is “for the people and of the people” does not and cannot exclude those who did have the good fortune to afford an education.

An HRD minister’s job is a tough one, considering the current state of education in India. The universities are in a mess, the curriculum more so. There is no research and teachers and students do not have a common agenda saved to make the students ‘job ready’. Education spending is in shambles and organisations in need for certifying colleges for courses are busy filling their coffers. No Indian university is present in the top 100 and research, well, what is research? Incidentally, this is the mess that our previous HRD minister Kapil Sibal left us with. Sibal was a graduate from St Stephen’s College, University of Delhi (LLB and MA in history) and later completed an LLM from Harvard Law School.

No doubt the country needs an able person to deal with this mess right now but to judge the ability on the basis of her degrees, considering the status of the education system, is not just ironical but hypocritical. These are the same crop of people who have seen the Steve Jobs Harvard commencement address 1000 times and lauded his lack of formal education. Many of them in fact attribute his success to lack of high profile degrees. Bill Gates is another one who gets the same reverence from our countrymen and women.

Lets all hail the lords of double standards. For the uninitiated to the workings of Indian government, ministers are generally flanked by experts, consultants and group of people who help them in governance activities. Just as Omar Abdullah tweeted today, coal ministers do not have to be miners and civil aviation ones do not have to be pilots. PhD also need not be the qualifying criteria for an HRD minister.

Some websites have reported discrepancies in Irani’s educational qualifications in her affidavits from 2004 and 2014. Now that might be an issue worth considering. What her qualifications are, is sadly not.




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