This 2001 Modi Interview Suggests Kejriwal's Curiosity About the PM's Degrees May Be Misplaced

New Delhi: Ever since the Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal filed an RTI query seeking information about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BA and MA degrees, the question of his educational qualifications has become a hot topic of discussion – and information warfare.

What should have actually been a trivial political matter has become a talking point on social media, thanks to supporters of the Aam Aadmi Party and Bharatiya Janata Party slugging it out. The matter has also escalated because of the BJP machinery’s silence on the issue, fuelling suspicions at various levels.

It is in this context that a short video clip, which shows Modi admitting to having passed “only high school”, has found tremendous popularity among AAP supporters. The video is an edited version of an old interview Modi gave to journalist Rajeev Shukla for his show Ru-Ba-Ru back in 2001. Modi, at that point of time, was speaking as a BJP general secretary during the NDA-I government.

In this clip, Modi tells Shukla on being asked about his interest in information technology, “I am not very educated. I left home at the age of 17 after high school,” following which the video ends abruptly. This quote has been used by Modi’s critics to raise further suspicions about his educational qualifications.

However, the full video of the interview tells a different tale. Soon after Modi says that he left school, Shukla prods him further with a direct question about his educational qualifications. To this, Modi says, “…I like to learn new things. After that (my high school), a senior in the Sangh (RSS) pushed me to finish my graduation. So I did my graduation as an external student from Delhi University, and then also finished my post graduate as an external student. I stood first in the university but I haven’t seen the gates of a college.”

It is worth bearing in mind that Modi made this statement well before his name was considered as someone who could be involved in electoral politics. At the time, there was no question of his one day becoming chief minister of Gujarat or prime minister of India, or of inventing – as his detractors have alleged – educational qualifications in consonance with those posts.

However, the selective editing of the video is yet another example of  how politically motivated activists  can use technology and the social media to spread half truths, and sometimes, lies. An earlier example was the manner in which a fabricated video of JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar was made by unknown persons and actively promoted by BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra, besides others.

The AAP is planning a nation-wide campaign against Modi for not disclosing the details of his degrees. However, none of the political parties, including the AAP, have raised any objections to the way the RTI queries have been handled in the case. Many civil society activists feel that declining information to the original petitioners who filed queries, as has happened over Modi’s degrees many times over the last two years, sets a bad precedent and undermines the legitimacy of the Right to Information Act. Despite repeated RTI queries over the last two years, the PMO, Delhi University, and Gujarat University repeatedly declined to divulge any details about Modi’s degrees.

The use of  edited video clips may help political activists score immediate points over each other. The danger is that such devices may end up alienating citizens from larger issues of transparency and governmental accountability further.