Years ago, when I was a rookie reporter, I was assigned to meet Subramanian Swamy, then the only leader of his faction of the Janata Party but quite a gadfly even then. He had promised a blast against the Congress government, which was headed by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. But the blast did not cause as much of a sensation as it would have in this era of 24x7 media focus on politicians.
It turned out that a minister had claimed that he was a law graduate from Harvard. “I checked with the university. There is no record of a student by this name. He is lying. He ought to be sacked.”
The man was very close to the PM. When I asked Swamy what legal action could be taken — that was the time before sworn affidavits had become the norm — Swamy said unfortunately the claim was made only on a piece of paper. “That is why I am for some minimum qualification for parliamentarians and legislators. Otherwise, all sorts of undesirable people will make it to these institutions.”
Later, when I asked then leading legal luminary Nani Palkhivala about Swamy’s contention, he said while Swamy was well meaning, decreeing minimum educational qualifications as the eligibility factor to contest elections violated fundamental rights. “Unless the government can provide literacy to all, forget about graduate degrees, this is a completely impossible task.”
Swamy kept up his campaign against the Congressman until the next list of ‘Who’s Who’, wherein the minister quietly dropped his claim of being a Harvard graduate. But I didn’t hear Swamy say anything when Union HRD minister Smriti Irani was caught lying about her educational qualifications on a sworn affidavit. Her Yale ‘degree’ turned out to be a fraud just like the minister’s Harvard claim. But, not even a graduate, Irani presides over the destinies of deans and vice-chancellors of varsities and autonomous institutions.
A similar outrage has now emerged in Maharashtra. Vinod Tawde is the state’s education minister and it turns out that his bachelor of engineering in electronics is not a degree at all. He is a graduate of the Sant Dnyaneshwar Vidyapeeth, which is not a university, but a trust running vocational courses — it was forbidden to award engineering degrees by an order of the Bombay High Court and has stopped doing so since.
Now, I do not believe Tawde lied on affidavit — he only failed to make it clear that this institute was not a deemed university and that it remained unaffiliated to the UGC or the AICTE.
Of course, graduates of this university have done well, but it is worth mulling over if whether a medical course were to be run by this ‘university’ would it churn out quacks or doctors? That would affect human lives as would legal courses unrecognised by the UGC but, to Tawde’s credit, he never claimed commercial or professional benefits from this ‘degree’.
Quite unlike Jitendra Singh Tomar who forged a degree making it a criminal act or even like Irani who lied under oath. I wonder at this desire on the part of our politicians to manufacture degrees because, at the end of the day, education is not a pre-requisite to enter politics. After all, the PM began life as a tea seller and wears that qualification proudly on his sleeve. But whatever the insecurities of our leaders, the government must consider: Do we want half-educated people to preside over the destinies of our children? Only knowledge begets knowledge; anything half-baked causes indigestion. And ignorance is not always bliss.