Degree of Confidence

Now that the BJP has won and all, I feel free to now be critical of it and keep it on its path. The nonconstructive opposition has been decimated, and it’s for those of us who wanted BJP in power for better growth and direction to provide the requisite opposition and criticism.

You know the reason so many people are so very Internet Hindu? You know, the abusive sorts? It’s because for a very long time the criticism to the Indian Right has been so biased, so skewed, so unfair. To maintain that balance, a lot of people would brook no criticism of the BJP or VHP or anyone. But I’ve noticed during and after these elections, that with the sort of confidence we’ve had with the victory, with the mainstream media now singing praises of Modi, there isn’t the need for fervent, passionate support anymore, and now that the BJP is ‘the system’, it is for us to keep it in check. And no, most of us don’t like everything the BJP does.

I realized a long time ago when I met Subramanian Swamy that politicians are vile chameleons, and above all, human, and should always be under our control, and never vice versa. This guy doesn’t really visit temples, and is really not very religious, but enthusiastically agreed for several pujas to be performed in his name. And then there were people spewing all sorts of idiotic religiosity in their speeches, and this man, who in his interactions with me, seemed sane and had a grip on reality and wasn’t one for such shallow thought, said nothing. Because these would be the people funding him, voting for him, and all that. Being in politics strictly limits your ability to say and do what you personally feel is right, and those pressures aren’t always conducive to all of us. Each of us needs to exert this pressure on politicians to do as we want, to balance out the other people doing the same.

Anyway. Smriti Irani now administers all our colleges, despite having only been to the school of life. I don’t begrudge her, who is to say what difficulties she faced in educating herself. But it doesn’t make me very confident about the state of education in India, given she has had very few opportunities so far to think about the quality of education in the country, the problems that students and teachers and universities face, to have a coherent vision of her own to implement in the next five years.

I owe my education to the NIT act the Vajpayee government brought about. Will that sort of vision, to make elite institutions and a common entrance exam, and a credible second-tier for technical education, out of already-decently-run universities around the country occur to someone who has no sense of the system?

The most common argument is Bill Gates was a dropout as well. Well, he dropped out because Harvard wasn’t offering the sort of courses he wanted to pursue, and he wanted to switch from Economics to Computer Science, which I presume was still in its infancy at Harvard.

That said, if you average over dropouts and people who went to college, you are likelier to be a visionary CEO if you did go to college than if you dropped out. So if you want a visionary, you’re better off hiring someone who showed an interest for it and stayed in college.

The next argument is ‘Manmohan Singh was a PhD, and Arjun Singh and Kapil Sibal were also well-educated’. Yuh-uh, and who was pulling the strings? Who was setting the standards? Someone whose last shot at education was English classes. If you read Sanjaya Baru’s book, you realize that Manmohan Singh did have good ideas, and he needed someone like Baru to bully him into implementing them. His whole problem was the lack of a political base. And sycophancy.

So if your options other than Smriti was someone like Nilekani, you have a fair point. But that isn’t the case.

You can always pick the negative example of Sibal and Chidambaram to say political base AND higher education together also don’t make for good policies. But, we’ve all read Sibal’s poetry, and if you still want to vote for him after that because you still consider him qualified, that’s your problem. Seriously though, Sibal and Chidambaram, even before UPA, hadn’t particularly proven their visionary credentials. In a party like INC, you can be sure the people who rise to the top aren’t necessarily the most qualified. And you can also be pretty sure that an INC politician is more likely to be corrupt and less patriotic that the heart and soul that push and direct administrators won’t be present.

Even so, you can’t correlate education levels with bad administrative skills, and no, you cannot say higher qualifications are causative of bad schemes and bad administration. And it’s really a huge stretch to conclude from any of this that having someone who isn’t well-educated is a better option.

The other thing that makes Smriti a bad candidate for this is that she has very little proven administrative experience. She’s never been a minister before. She’s been a Rajya Sabha MP, yes, but also has two huge electoral losses to her name. She’s proven to be a competent spokesperson, and holds the same post in the BJP as Rahul Gandhi does, but hey, no one will wager that Rahul was in any way qualified to be anything, and President of Women’s Wing isn’t exactly screaming ‘Give her the MHRD already!’.

There’s another argument that ‘Bureaucrats do all the work anyway’. So yes, the minister doesn’t have to be an educationist. But they need to have either some vision, or the promise of a vision, or ground support that proves their competence, or some administrative experience that says yeah, they’ll be able to manage this. Smriti has none of these, at least not as much as her peers in the NDA.

When you exhaust all these arguments, the pro-Smriti folks will say ‘Give the rookie a chance, she fought valiantly in Amethi’. The question is, why should anybody? There are way more qualified people in the BJP, and appointing her over them makes no sense at best, and at worst, reminds us that ministerial berths are supposed to be rewards for loyalty more than stuff you get via merit, something we disliked deeply in the Congress. There are so many others. You could have given it to Maneka Gandhi, who has proven herself in the last government, or to Gopinath Munde instead of the half a dozen random portfolios he’s been given. Or heck, you could have given it to Najma Heptullah, and if you really badly wanted to have a Muslim for Minority Affairs, you could bring back Shahnawaz Hussain who has proven pretty competent. And to a big guy like Venkiah Naidu you give a relatively low-profile portfolio, wouldn’t it be smarter to have given him the MHRD and to Smriti all the Parliamentary Affairs, Panchayati Raj and all that?

So for those on the other side of the debate, yes, the arguments against having Smriti for MHRD are pretty solid.

The only competent reason I can see behind this appointment is that Modi wants to pretty much keep this to himself, go forward with his own agenda. He’s building loyalists here, who won’t have their own agenda in mind already, and will be open to, and more than willing to do as he says. So essentially, Smriti will be a Modi on the TV channels and a Manmohan in the office.

I don’t think Smriti will be absolute crap at her job. Or that Modi’s vision being implemented via Smriti would have terrible consequences for all of us. But it’s good to know what we’re dealing with, and to not have blinders on. It’s also good to point out things like this that make it seem like the BJP is going the INC way.

All I hope is, Ms. Irani, Mr. Modi, whatever the heck you do, make sure there are no unceremonious, controversial ousters at NITK or professors being forced to quit for speaking up about matters of national security.

About wanderlust

just your average books-and-music person who wants to change the world.
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4 Responses to Degree of Confidence

  1. harish says:

    I don’t think the argument is ‘we had educated folks before, now let’s give it a non-degree holder’. It is just that degree doesn’t higher the chances of being a good minister. We had Dr. MM Joshi as HRD minister, remember. Not from Congress, but from NDA. He wasted an entire term.

    If you can think through problems, listen to people, ask questions and articulate them, that’s all you need as minister. [And for some life teaches these skills (thinking, asking questions, articualation) more than education does. I have seen that in quite a few people I personally know although they aren’t ministers. 🙂 ] And Smriti Irani has done some of these well in her role as spokesperson. Rahul hasn’t done that.

    There is very little emphasis on first principles thinking in India. You don’t need to be educated and been in a university to know problems of education in India. You need an ability to think, ask questions, listen and articulate and manage people. She has shown she can think, articulate and take positions on issues in her role as MP and spokesperson.

    By the way, if you have followed governments in India, you know that most problems are known and solutions too are known. Just the will to implement has been lacking. Look at how Modi quietly used the administrative reforms commission recommendation of 2009 to restructure some of the ministries. Similarly there are tomes of reports on how to reform education in India. It doesn’t require a PhD to to implement them. just the will to do it is needed.

    Also I instinctively believe a younger woman is a welcome change in a ministry generally dominated by old men. It can be significantly positive. I would give Smriti Irani a chance given all this and give she would have the direction of the able Modi to deliver the transformative change required.
    Smriti Irani’s success is very important in de-hyping degrees in India.

    • wanderlust says:

      i wouldn’t say MMJ’s term was a waste of five years. We had sarva shiksha abhiyaan, the NITs, and a lot of other good stuff.

      Having clarity of thought is not a big deal. If that was the only requirement, why not meenakshi lekhi then, given she has been in the party longer etc etc? (why not me? but i digress).

      I’m addressing the basic arguments I’m seeing on twitter, facebook, reddit and everywhere else and I’m just irked by the lack of logic in them.

      That said, the whole problem isn’t so much Smriti being a filmstar as it is about the fact that we were promised a meritocracy and individual loyalty isn’t the metric to hand out ministries on. This just feels symptomatic of the malaise that plagues politics in general, and we thought Modi would be different, but his appointees are all the same old corrupt BJP folks who no one would really vote for if we weren’t facing the prospect of Rahul being PM.

      The whole problem is ‘what do you bring to the table that you deserve this more than others?’. I can find no such feature that makes her the best choice for this important portfolio.

      The problems and solutions aren’t simplistic. Strengthen primary education might be an easy idea, but how do you implement it? We need more IITs, but is the best way to go forth to create a ton of colleges in places where there’s no campus or facilities or anything? You do need significant thinking in this domain.

      Being a woman, would she push for sex education as part of curriculum, as she might appreciate the need for it more than old men, or is she just going to be the mouthpiece and rubberstamp of old men who are pulling her strings?

      MHRD isn’t as halwa as you make it sound. I repeat that im not saying she’ll do a terrible job. It’s just i don’t see what she brings to the table other than being a modi loyalist.

      • harish says:

        Clarity of thought is a big deal. but when I said ability to question and think, I meant more than clarity. You can have clarity of thought about the wrong thought. By being able to question, listen, think, articulate and do that iteratively is more than just clarity. And that skill is not really ensured by the education atleast in Indian context. Having said that, on paper there might appear more choices like Lekhiji, you-ji and Kamalamma-ji. But just think from Modi’s PoV. It is Modi sarkar and the government will be a mechanism to deliver his vision. He says education is his priority area. Now to deliver transformative change you need ministers who share your thinking or are loyal to you or are political lightweights. The other options might have not me these criteria. How can you be sure that this wasn’t the case?
        The oldies are more or less gone except for an Anant Kumar who now has a reduced role and maybe a Prakash Javdekar. Yes I too wasn’t happy with Sushma. But if you have followed politics in India for last 2 years, you would know AJ has been a strong advocate of Modi and one who shares his vision.So I don’t think you are being fair in saying all the same corrupt old folks are there. ultimately what matters is leadership. MMS and ABV had more or less same allies. why was ABV more successful than MMS? Guess the answer is in leadership.[Also it is naive and Kejriwal-esque to expect a totally idealistic cabinet. Atleast I didn’t vote expecting that. 😛 ]
        Who said solutions are simplistic. I never said it. All I said was that the solutions are in the form of the umpteen number of reports generated by the many many committees formed over the years. The thinking has been done by these committees. The solution lies in their implementation. For that the skills I mentioned in my previous comment coupled with leadership(Modi’s) and will(political will, again boils down to Modi’s will) are necessary. Not degree or education.
        A young woman who has gone through a lot of struggle in her life to come up to where she is will more likely have the required empathy to solve problems plaguing young India. But as I said earlier this is more an instinctive belief of mine than a logical argument.

  2. harish says:

    Also read this to know Dr. Murli Manohar ‘Spectroscopy’ Joshi’s performance as HRD minister. It’s almost as funny as our India 2020 book. 🙂

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