Sh. Joginder Singh, IPS (Rtd.)
Former Director of CBI 
The debate over Smriti Irani’s academic qualifications is meaningless. Some of her predecessors in the HRD Ministry were highly educated. Yet, education levels in India have plummeted in recent years.

As an officer in the Indian Police Service, I happened to serve as an Aide-De-Camp to the Governor of Punjab. My assignment was the result of a request sent by the Governor of Punjab to the State of Mysore, later named Karnataka. The Governor only spoke his mother tongue Kannada and English while the then Chief Minister of Punjab knew only Punjabi.

I was expected to serve both as an ADC as well as an English-Punjabi interpreter at official functions. One Punjab politician, who eventually rose to the highest office in the country, was a frequent visitor. There were lot of stories and rumours doing the rounds about him in Punjab at that time. If the Governor was busy when he arrived, the politician would wait in my room, which was next to the Governor’s office. When a particularly unsavoury incident was reported about the politician, I asked him if he was upset that such things were being written about him in the Press.

The politician smiled and asked me my age. I said that I had just completed 27 years. He told me I was just a child and explained that for a politician to remain in news is of the highest priority. I asked him how it was possible for anybody to remain in news everyday for all the right reasons. He again chided me and said that publicity is the life blood of politicians, even if it means paying from his own pocket to have stories against him in the media.

The recent criticism of the Union Minister for Human Resource Development by a junior Congress leader who lost the general election must be viewed against this backdrop. The Congress leader had pointed fingers at Ms Smriti Irani for not have a college education. Ironically, he himself had been at the receiving end of such statements and that too from his own party colleague who had called a ‘third class graduate’, from a ‘back street college’. ‘

There are many such instances within the Congress. During the election campaign, another senior Congress leader had made fun of Mr Narendra Modi’s humble origins, called the BJP leader a “chaiwallah” and told him to sell tea outside the Congress headquarters. Of course, the comment cost him and his party dearly — both lost the election.

As for HRD Ministers, let us not forget that Congress leaders who had led the Ministry had made a mess and wasted a lot of public funds. The previous Congress-led UPA regime introduced the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009. Under the latter, no student can be held back until Class VIII.

I wanted to hire an assistant to help my private secretary with maintaining the files. A young person, who claimed that he had studied up to Class X, offered his services. When I asked him to read two paras from a Hindi newspaper, he could not even read the name of the newspaper. I said it was a simple Hindi name: Punjab Kesari. So much for the work done by former education Ministers many of whom were highly educated!

You do not have to have a great college education to make it big. On the contrary, all sorts of fake diplomas and marksheets can be bought for the right price. Also, in the case of Ms Irani, there is no rule saying that an undergraduate degree is needed to become a Minister. So how can she be blamed? Moreover, there are double standards at play here. In previous Congress Governments, scamsters and fraudsters, and even leaders accused of murder, were appointed to the Union Cabinet.

According to the Association for Democratic Reforms, 23 per cent of the 542 MPs in the new Lok Sabha are not college educated. Of these, 58 MPs have completed school education while another 48 have only studied up to Class X. Additionally, there are nine MPs who have only finished Class VIII and another six have just studied up to Class V. Five others are just literate and there is even a lone MP from the Telugu Desam Party who has declared himself illiterate.

Incidentally, there many who have done well in life without much formal education. For instance, former US President Abraham Lincoln had only one year of formal schooling and was essentially a self-taught man. Henry Ford, the legendary founder of Ford Motor Company, never went to college. John D Rockefeller Senior, founder of Standard Oil, dropped out of high school just two months before graduating.

Thomas Edison, inventor of the lightbulb and phonograph, was primarily home-schooled after his teachers labeled him dumb. Andrew Carnegie, founder of Carnegie Steel Company and one of the richest men that ever lived, was born in abject poverty and never saw the four walls of a school building.

Mr Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft Corporation, the world largest software company, and the richest man in the world for 13 consecutive years, dropped out of Harvard. Mr Michael Dell dropped out of college at the age of 19 to start Dell Computers Inc. which eventually became the most profitable personal computer manufacturer in the world. Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College to start Apple Inc.

In India, K Kamaraj, who did not have any formal education and spoke only Tamil, was a very successful Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Dhirubhai Ambani, founder of the Reliance Group, was a high school dropout. Mr Gautam Adani, founder of Adani Group, dropped out of college.

On the flip side, despite highly educated Ministers in the Union Government, the quality of education has gone down. For example, Indian universities don’t even make to the Top 50 list of the world’s best universities.

However, there are individuals who have made a mark in the world on the basis of their own strength, hard work and dedication. It had nothing to do with who was their Education Minister. At the Minister’s Level, it is the policies and their monitoring and implementation which matter — not the degrees held by the individual Minister.

In the previous Government, were not only illiterate but also criminals and scamsters. Fed up with these career politicians who created a mess in the country, the people have voted for change and brought in a new Government manned by a different party and fresh set of leaders.