New Delhi: Filing her nomination for the Amethi Lok Sabha seat on Thursday, Union minister Smriti Irani said her highest educational qualification was ‘Part 1 of Bachelor of Commerce from Delhi University in 1994’.
In a 2004 affidavit, however, submitted while filing her nomination from Chandni Chowk in Delhi, she had claimed that she did her BA in 1996 from Delhi University (School of Correspondence).
How is that since 2004, Irani has shed her degree? Moreover, was she pursuing commerce or arts in Delhi University?
2019 affidavit in line with those submitted in 2009, 2011 and 2014
This year, Irani has played as safe as she can. Her affidavit more or less reaffirms her 2014 affidavit, when she also contested the Amethi Lok Sabha seat against Rahul Gandhi. In fact, her 2011 affidavit alongside her Rajya Sabha nomination also stated that her highest educational qualification was “B. Com. Part 1”.
In her affidavit this year, Irani has stated that she appeared for the All India Senior School Certificate Examination from Holy Child Auxilium School through the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) in 1993.
She goes on to state that she did her “Bachelor of Commerce Part – 1 (Three year degree course not completed)” through the “School of Open Learning (Correspondence), University of Delhi,” in “1994”.
This is slightly different in wording, but not in substance from her affidavit in 2014. She had then stated her educational qualification as “Bachelor of Commerce Part-1, School of Open Learning (Correspondence), University of Delhi – 1994.”
2004 affidavit was different on three counts
However, it is Irani’s 2004 submission that continues to raise questions. It differed from her present position on three counts: First, that she had completed her degree. Second, that she did so in 1996. And third, that her subject was arts.
All the subsequent affidavits stated she completed only one year of study and her course was Bachelor of Commerce.
When she became the youngest minister in Narendra Modi’s cabinet in 2014, the Congress raised this issue vehemently. Party leader Ajay Maken tweeted: “Smriti Irani is not even a graduate”. Even Madhu Kishwar went after her over the inconsistencies.
Irani has never addressed the issue, but it has refused to die down.
RTI activists who pursued the matter reiterate that the constitution and India’s election laws do not set any educational qualifications to hold office. Her lack of a degree does not disqualify her from being an MP or a minister. What they have questioned, however, are the “misleading” claims.
Issue also taken up in information panel, courts
In 2016, a complaint was filed against her in a Delhi court. The metropolitan magistrate dismissed it, saying it was filed to harass her and that if she were not a minister, the complainant would not have bothered.
Activists have also tried to extract her educational records from Delhi University using the Right to Information Act.
However, as Union minister for human resource development, Irani instructed the Delhi University to not reveal her records. The School of Open Learning (SoL) told the Central Information Commission that this was so.
In January 2017, then central information commissioner M. Sridhar Acharyulu directed the CBSE to allow inspection of Irani’s Class 10 and Class 12 records. After that development, Irani said people were free to scrutinise even her nursery records.
In 2018, while hearing a plea against the CIC order, the Delhi high court held that if “all the CBSE marks of students” were available in the public domain, “then you cannot say there is a right of privacy qua results of earlier students”.
In November 2018, Rahul Gandhi also attacked the BJP saying: “Fake degree is in BJP’s DNA”. Irani hit back, calling him a “congenital liar”, but has not addressed the issue.