Family work kept the “little sister” away from Prakash Javadekar’s big day, when he took charge of the Union human resource development ministry.
Smriti Irani, who was shifted from HRD to the less-glamorous textiles in the latest ministry reshuffle, was expected to attend Javadekar’s ceremony on Thursday. He admitted as much, saying he spoke to her over the phone but she excused herself because of some “family work”.
Protocol does not forbid an outgoing minister to skip the event when the successor takes charge of a ministry, but the predecessor traditionally hands over charge as a rule reckoned by courtesy.
The 65-year-old Javadekar had even called on Irani at her Delhi home on Wednesday morning, a day after the Narendra Modi government’s remustering exercise for its ministers that has upset quite a few of them.
Javadekar called her his “little sister”, later, and announced she will be around to hand over charge of the ministry she had headed for two years.
That didn’t happen and Javadekar took charge with his junior ministers, Upendra Kushwaha and Mahendra Pandey, by his side on Thursday.
He kept to the line he has taken after becoming the head of HRD, which takes care of the country’s education system, underlining his focus on teamwork. “There are a lot of challenges and opportunities too. All three of us will work together like Team HRD,” he said, pointing to the two ministers of state.
This marked a shift from the Irani era, when excessive centralisation was said to be the byword. Junior ministers Kushwaha and his former colleague in the same rank, RS Katheria, who was sacked before the reshuffle, were not given much work and attended a few meetings during Irani’s tenure, sources said.
Javadekar offered a “good dialogue” with students protesting over diverse issues on college and university campuses on Wednesday — another marked change in approach as Irani’s stint was dotted with unpleasant and controversial confrontations with students.
The new HRD minister promised greater media accessibility, saying he will fix a time for journalists to meet him. Irani, on the other hand, had a frosty relationship with media and often got involved in public spats with journalists on Twitter.
Javadekar met senior HRD officials after taking charge. “His was a conciliatory tone, not the aggressive and confrontational approach that we encountered earlier,” said a senior official.
The minister revealed the goals he wants the HRD ministry to achieve on his watch —GIS mapping of all educational institutions, filling vacant positions, speeding up the work on world-class universities, and the pending IIM bill.
“The major challenge in the education sector is to raise the standard. Quality education is vital as it lays the foundation and builds overall personality,” he said.
Also, the son of a schoolteacher-mother underscored the Modi government’s focus on innovation in education. “Unless you rebel, unless you challenge the status quo, how can you innovate anything?” Javadekar said, pointing at the culture of children being discouraged to ask questions in schools.
(with inputs from PTI)