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HindustanTimes Sat,27 Dec 2014
A learning experience for Smriti Irani: education isn't just Yale degree
KumKum Dasgupta, Hindustan Times
August 12, 2014
First Published: 13:57 IST(12/8/2014)
Last Updated: 14:10 IST(12/8/2014)
I feel a bit sorry for Union human resource development minister Smriti Irani. She did what many others do pretty regularly--brag endlessly about paid/free certificate courses they do from foreign universities--but unlike others, she received such huge flak for it.
 
The reason is, of course, Irani, unlike others, is the Union HRD minister. If she had some other portfolio, say like water resources or rural development, I am sure such a comment would not have created even a minor ripple. But then an HRD minister cannot short change the public by saying she has a Yale University degree when all she has got in her kitty is a certificate for a six-day crash course on leadership (a junket, if you ask me), can she?
 
The ferocious debate over Irani's educational qualification and whether she is fit to be the Union HRD minister has been on since the day she took over the ministry and this must have been disturbing her for some time. Soon after the Lok Sabha results, Irani faced loads of questions over her educational qualifications after it emerged that the actor-turned-politician had made contradictory declarations when she contested the parliamentary elections in 2004 and 2014. Now, in India, where there is a huge demand for education, no one, especially if you trying to please the middle class, wants to be called "illiterate".
 
So when Irani got a chance to speak at a media conclave, she must have thought that this was her golden chance to set the record straight and tell the 'educated' audience that she is no pushover when it comes to academics, and then foolishly overplayed her hand.
 
Later, of course, as all respectable politicians do, Irani pulled out a familiar card: "Unfortunate that statement regarding my participation in a leadership program & certificate thereafter was misconstrued," she said on Twitter and Facebook. But by the time this rebuttal came, her not-so-glorious CV had unleashed the creative energies of the Twitterati.
 
As I read the tweets and the Facebook posts (some are really good, so do search for them if you have not done yet), I wondered whether there should be some minimum qualification for our leaders who aspire to be MLA or MPs. While it is tempting to argue for the motion (qualified leaders), can a fancy degree-holding politician always ensure results or make the right noises? Now take for example Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union health minister. While he is probably the perfect man to lead the ministry, his strange comments on sex education in schools left many--even his supporters--stunned.
 
I asked couple of my 21-year-old nephew's friends about their take on the issue (minimum qualification for politicians): while some said qualification has nothing to do with performance (all are equally bad, one said sardonically), few others felt that "they are role models, they must have a certain level of education". The degree could be from an Indian university and not necessarily from Yale/Oxford, another one added cheekily.
 
If I have to take a position on this issue, I would say yes politicians must have a minimum standard of education/qualification like BA/BSc. This is because politics has moved beyond just being "service to the nation"; it needs educated/professional minds (like in any other profession) to take critical decisions and a sound education (and the right intent)--not the Dina Nath Batra bunkum type--can only aid them making informed choices.
 
And hopefully, such leaders would improve the quality of debate in Parliament and in political rallies because all we hear these days from all political parties is not solid evidence-backed views/policy debates but catchy one-liners that can give the advertising sector a run for their money.

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