Smriti Irani has had a meteoric rise like none other in Indian politics. From joining the BJP in 2003 to becoming the HRD Minister in the NDA Government in 2014 to Textile Minister in 2016 and now the I&B Minister, it has been a roller coaster yet eventful ride. Along the way she’s not shied away from taking controversial stands, voicing unpopular opinions, enduring tough electoral battles or challenging the high and the mighty on television debates.She has crafted an identity for herself fuelled by her firebrand aggression.
Smriti Irani’s combativeness is well documented; yet the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 took it to a whole new level. Taking on Rahul Gandhi in his family bastion of Amethi, she put up such a spirited performance that the Congress high command had to send a SOS to his sister, the darling of Amethi public. She matched her jibe for jibe and took oratory to a whole new level. Many political experts on the campaign trail wondered whether her oratory is as good as Narendra Modi‘s. Although she eventually lost the seat to Rahul Gandhi, she was hailed all around for the way she conducted herself throughout the campaign and her selflessness in contesting from a virtually unwinnable constituency. She had done this in the past too, taking on Kapil Sibal in the 2004 General elections. The BJP high command had taken note of this!
NDA rode the Modi wave and attained a historical mandate. The Cabinet list was out, Smriti Irani got the HRD ministry. The whispers and murmurs began. What could have been the pinnacle of her eventful political career, became a curse. The ordeal had just started. Madhu Kishwar, educationist, feminist and vociferous Modi supporter struck the first blow. She questioned her educational credentials, her modelling and acting career and her overall eligibility for the role. She also indirectly implicated Irani of casting a spell and black magic on Modi. It’s indeed ironical that a self-proclaimed feminist would make a character assassination of another lady and implicate that a woman can never achieve anything unless she’s granting some favours to men in power (I have always believed that when it comes to feminism, women do each other more harm than men. But that’s a different topic for another day!).
The Fabindia fiasco happened next. A lady’s modesty was violated by hidden cameras in a trial room and she was rightly outraged. The media instead of expressing sympathy with the victim questioned her motives. Somebody called her a fat cow, somebody else an overfed aunty. Some journalists were overtly critical, most of them females themselves. The left leaning Indian media which is usually ready with dozens of newsprint over such incidents liberally laced with words like feminism, chauvinism, patriarchy and violation were unusually mum. After all they firmly believe that feminism, equality, justice and liberty are exclusive privileges of the political left! Rajdeep Sardesai, the doyen on news traders, went on to insinuate Irani herself for the incident in his interview; he couldn’t have stooped any lower!
The NSUI attacked Smriti Irani’s home. She was away at work. Congress leader Indrani Mishra asked her whether she knows the difference between B.Ed and Bed on Twitter.
— Indrani Mishra (@indraniiyc) May 29, 2015
Youth Congress President Amarinder Singh Raja used the same medium to spew more vulgar vitriol.
The mainstream media which reported Giriraj Singh’s private remark on Sonia Gandhi’s skin colour as a matter of national importance, chose to stay blindfolded. Why shall they treat her with respect anyway? For years on end she beat them to pulp in every single interview, discussion or debate. They couldn’t get their agenda and half-truths beyond her then; they choose to ignore her truth now!
However, Aaj Tak reached the nadir of shamelessness today. Just when you think that the media can’t stoop any lower, they plumb even greater depths of mediocrity. An Aaj Tak journalist Ashok shamelessly asked Smriti Irani what Modi saw in her that she’s been made a Cabinet Minister. There’s nothing more derogatory than to denigrate a woman’s character on national television that too based on misplaced theories. The media and Smriti Irani critics attribute her popularity to a superhit TV show that ran on television a decade back. They call her a ‘Bahu’ and as Sanjay Nirupam remarked a ‘Thumka lagane waali’ (A woman who does pelvic thrusts!).
Such remarks sell her credentials short. In a country where legends of Indian cinema like Amitabh Bachchan, Rajesh Khanna and Hema Malini found low/moderate success in cracking the political riddle, here’s a woman from a humble background without any Godfather who has made it big. To overlook her achievements as the best political spokesperson on television for the better part of last decade is nothing but short-sightedness.
Smriti Irani is not beyond critique, no political representative ever is. But if she needs to be critiqued it should be based on her policies (or the lack of it). Judge her by how she performs as a HRD minister. Nitpick her policies regarding higher education. Criticise her if she sells Primary and Secondary education short. If she doesn’t introduce steps to improve the research environment in the country, slam her for it. Ensure that she doesn’t compromise the temples of higher education. But don’t criticise her character and her values. Don’t assassinate her character. For being a rags to riches story, for her audacity and bravery, for being an uncorrupt politician and for her unwillingness to play the victimized woman (or what she calls a “Political Cinderella”) card ever; she deserves all the respect.