Smriti Irani, arguably India’s most Twitter-savvy minister after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, hadn’t tweeted for several hours till Wednesday afternoon but she managed to remain a top trend on the social media site.
#ByeByeSmriti remained a top trend on Twitter on Tuesday night and Wednesday as Lutyen’s Delhi was abuzz with theories over why PM Modi moved her from the human resource development ministry to textiles.
Though Irani changed her Twitter bio to reflect the change from HRD minister to “Union Minister Government of India”, she tweeted after a gap of 21 hours to thank Modi for the new portfolio.
Her prolonged silence gave rise to speculations that she had seen it coming. Irani was sounded out on Monday of a possible change, a source in the ruling BJP revealed.
There are several theories doing the rounds on why she was moved out to the less glamourous textiles ministry.
Chief among them: She upset the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, the BJP’s ideological fountainhead, with the slow pace of changes it desired in the education sector.
Though Irani was frequently criticised for “saffronising” education, the RSS felt she wasn’t doing enough.
At the annual meeting of the RSS brass in March this year, a resolution was passed calling for “value-based and nationalistic” education.
At the same meeting, the RSS also called for the government to curb student politics on campuses – a suggestion diluted by the HRD ministry under Irani even after it figured prominently in the TSR Subramanian committee’s report on formulating the New Education Policy.
Sources say BJP president Amit Shah was not particularly happy with the controversies Irani generated either.
In April 2015, as the party national executive met to celebrate the victory in the 2014 general elections and the assembly polls in Haryana and Maharashtra and mull over the crushing defeat in Delhi, a controversy erupted surrounding Irani.
She was in north Goa and allegedly spotted on a CCTV camera pointing towards a trial room she was changing in.
The news hit the headlines as the BJP national executive jostled for news space.
Party spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi even tweeted blaming the media for giving Irani more space than the ruling party’s top leadership: “Do I smell a rat to obfuscate the BJP national executive meeting. Attempts being made not to cover NE meeting instead cover some other inane issues.”
The controversy never went down well with many in the party, including Shah.
Though many in the party also believe Irani is being freed up for a larger role in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections slated for early 2017.
She has repeatedly taken on Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on his home turf in Amethi and gave him a strong fight there in 2014, drastically bringing down his victory margin to nearly one lakh votes from 3.5 lakhs five years ago.
Others say textiles is by no means a small ministry, only a less glamourous one that will allow Irani to work away from the public gaze and criticism that she so easily attracts.
Long Twitter silence
The new Union textile minister in a string of tweets on Wednesday afternoon spoke of her work in the HRD ministry.
Her last tweet before that – if you discount the numerous retweets of tweets from the Prime Minister’s office or the government’s official handles – came on Monday afternoon.
It was a quick and somewhat muted response to someone thanking her for helping out.
Glad to be of help,” she replied to a research scholar at Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad thanking her, the HRD ministry and PM Modi for “intervening” on a fee hike.
Last checked, Irani was not on the best of terms with research scholars. Jawaharlal Nehru University students’ union president and research scholar Kanhaiya Kumar – charged with sedition for a function held on the JNU campus – even demanded her resignation for the death of Hyderabad University research scholar Rohith Vemula.
A few hours earlier, Irani had tweeted a tribute to Swami Vivekananda on his Nirvan Diwas.