Smriti Irani does not interfere

In 2008 my then colleague in Rediff Syed Firdaus Ashraf and I traveled across parts of Kerala, to report on Muslim issues. At one point we found ourselves at a three-day conference on education, organised by various Muslim organisations in Cannanore — which in turn led us into conversations with several educators.

The crux of the story, in a series of clips:

“The liberalisation of the Indian economy has triggered a growing belief in education, because they — especially the younger Muslims — believe they too can join the economic bandwagon, they can be a part of it and benefit from it.”

He isolates two factors that are acting as catalysts: “One, till the turn of the century, a vast majority of the girls in our college and in fact in our community looked on education merely as a stop gap, a way of improving their matrimonial prospects. In the last five to six years, however, girls — and their parents — have realised that they can have rich, rewarding careers in various fields, especially science, IT, the medical and engineering streams, and government service. Significantly, the girls don’t see the Gulf as a career goal.”

“Ten years ago, even six years ago, the goal of the average young Muslim was escape — from the stifling poverty of this district to the Gulf, or into marriage, depending on sex. Today, they aspire, they dare to dream, and that is a very significant change, the real implications of which will be felt only a decade or so down the line.”

As with any quantum societal shift, the one among Malappuram’s Muslim population is producing its own share of problems. ‘Problem’ might in fact be an odd descriptor for a trend that has seen Muslim students significantly increase their pass percentages, but consider this:

In 2007, Kannur district registered a pass percentage of 90.79 per cent in the SSC exams; Malappuram soared from 51 per cent to 76.62 per cent; Kasargode’s figures rose from 68.6 per cent to 80.1 per cent, and Kozhikode also registered 80.6 per cent.

All these districts have significant Muslim populations, and while there are no ready figures available to break the pass percentages down by community, Muslim educationists tell us that by extrapolating the evidence from their own schools, they believe that the increased interest in education shown by the Muslim youth is one of the factors driving this uptick. And the figures for Malappuram seem to bear out that assessment.

Therein lies the catch: Educationists estimate that a one per cent uptick in pass percentages add, in each district, between 500 to 800 additional students seeking admission in colleges each academic year.

Not only are there no new educational institutions being built to cater to this skyrocketing demand, the state government has consistently cut down its spending in this sector, increasingly preferring to license private operators to run educational institutions.

Consider the figures: The Congress-led United Democratic Front government that governed between 1982 and 1986/1987 cut its outlay on education from 37.2 per cent to 31.5 per cent of the total budget; the successor Communist Party of India-Marxist-led Left Democratic Front government (1987 to 1990/1991) further cut the outlay from 31.5 per cent to 27.45 per cent; the UDF government that took over between 1991 to 1994/1995 sliced the budget from 27.45 per cent to 26.67 per cent; and the LDF government of 1995 to 2000 further slashed the outlay from 26.67 per cent to 22.56 per cent.

“Each government spends less and less on education — just when the demand for facilities, for colleges, for increased seats in many more streams, is growing,” U P Yahya Khan, a Farookh College professor and one of the delegates to a community conference on education, points out.

This is the full story.

Now consider this report on a recent meeting Minister for Human Resource Development Smriti Irani — who the other day challenged the Opposition to substantiate the charge of undue interference — had with a group from Kerala led by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. Clips:

With a delegation of Kerala ministers and MPs, Kerala Chief Minister Mr. Oommen Chandy met HRD Minister Smriti Irani in her office in Delhi on 8 January seeking her support for the AMU Centre in Malappuram which is not progressing as planned. According to a reliable source, she told them bluntly, “This centre and other AMU centres were established without any legal sanction, hence they all will be closed down.”

She added, “How you start a centre like this?…What authority the VC has to take such an action. We are not going to give money.” She went on to say, “There was no need for the AMU centres. I am going to close them down. We will not give any grant for this purpose.”

While this unpleasant discussion was on between the HRD Minister and Kerala CM-led delegation, the AMU Vice Chancellor Lt. Gen (retd) Zameeruddin Shah entered the room. Irani asked him bluntly: “Why have you come?” He politely replied, “Ma’am, I have come at the invitation of the Kerala Chief Minister.”

She shot back in anger: “Who pays your salary? Kerala CM or the HRD Ministry? Go back and sit in your room!” The humiliated VC made a hasty retreat while a stunned CM and his delegation looked on in utter disbelief.

Ms Irani’s behaviour aside, note her point about the AMU having been established without legal sanction. So, this (Emphasis mine):

The current HRD minister is behaving as if the AMU VC took a unilateral decision to establish these centres. In fact, these centres were part of the Union government’s scheme for the educational uplift of the Muslim community in the wake of the alarming Sachar report of 2006.

AMU’s academic and executive councils approved this scheme which was finally okayed in May 2010 by the President of India who is the Visitor of the university. Before their establishment, the Union government engaged the Educational Consultants India Ltd (EDCIL), a public sector company, which prepared the project report after which UGC released funds.

File this under “non-interference”, alongside this earlier post on the same theme.

Ms Irani’s Cabinet colleague Mr Arun Jaitley once said wise words about the temporal nature of power, and cautioned against smugness and arrogance. Worth remembering.

PS: Added on March 1: TIL, today, that the VC whom Irani insulted has a history with the BJP:

We discover that Major General [Zameeruddin Shah], the area commander, observed that misleading information was conveyed to army units. As a result, they landed in peaceful areas while rioters went unchecked. To avoid this, the army later responded directly to public calls of distress ignoring the local police in the later period of the riots. Incidentally, {Zameeruddin] is the brother of the famous actor, Nasiruddin Shah.


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