Smriti Irani Shifted In Move Seen As Strong Action From BJP Chief Amit Shah

Smriti Irani Shifted In Move Seen As Strong Action From BJP Chief Amit Shah

Smriti Irani has been moved to Textiles Ministry in PM Narendra Modi’s big cabinet reshuffle. (File Photo)



  1. Smriti Irani removed as head of Human Resources Development
  2. Ms Irani, 40, had controversial tenure marked with campus unrest
  3. Talk of Ms Irani as BJP’s choice for UP Chief Minister

Smriti Irani appears to have missed the mark – by a wide margin. The 40-year-old minister of Human Resources Development which handles education was on Tuesday transferred to the far quieter and less prestigious Textiles department.

This made Ms Irani a top trend on Twitter and the lead point of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s extensive cabinet reconfiguration.

The two-year tenure as Education Minister for Ms Irani, a wildly popular soap opera star at one time, ‎was rich in headlines, many of them unflattering. The Washington Post in a recent profile dubbed her the “queen of controversies”.

In the last few months, campuses have seethed with student anger and clashes. In January, Dalit student Rohith Vemula killed himself in Hyderabad after alleging persecution by university officials over his caste. His friends and mother said Ms Irani’s department was linked to his persecution, an accusation she rebutted in Parliament.

There have been reports that Ms Irani is being set up by the BJP for a large role – possibly that of presumptive Chief Minister ‎- in Uttar Pradesh, which votes next year. In the last general election, Ms Irani put up a spirited fight against Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi in Amethi, a long-time stronghold for his family. With talk of his sister Priyanka being approached by the Congress to campaign for the party across UP, the speculation over Ms Irani as a foil has increased.

But sources in the BJP say that Ms Irani, considered a protege of the PM, irked two powerful forces. At a national executive meeting of the BJP’s top leaders in Bengaluru last year, she allegedly was involved in “incidents that made (party president) Amit Shah unhappy,” said a senior party leader without elaborating.

Additionally, she has reportedly failed to win over the BJP’s ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh or RSS, which endorsed today’s changes to the council of ministers.

Ironically, Ms Irani has been charged repeatedly by taking her orders from the RSS in trying to set a new right-wing agenda via the syllabus and textbooks of schools and colleges – “the saffronisation of education”.

But sources say the RSS felt Ms Irani wasn’t moving fast or effectively enough‎ to implement the changes it sought. Those who support her say the expectations of her by the RSS were unrealistic.

Her public exchanges with opponents – on social media and offline – were characterised as aggression by critics and feistiness by supporters. But some senior BJP leaders reportedly complained that as a relative newcomer, she should have been more diplomatic – learn to grin and bear it, was their take.

In Uttar Pradesh, where Mr Shah is in charge of the BJP’s campaign strategy, Ms Irani’s prospects have created the sort of divide she is seen as often forging. While some believe her outstanding speeches and efficiency prime her for a big role, BJP veterans in the state are opposed to giving the lion’s share of the campaign to an outsider.

There is also the fact that Ms Irani has no specific clout with any major caste in a state where that is the over-riding calculation for politics. But an opposing view is that gives her the edge and could ensure that as chief ministerial candidate, she would alienate no caste either.