Indian’s Congress leader Ajay Maken has questioned the educational qualifications of Smriti Irani, who has taken over as Human Resource Development Minister.
The party’s general secretary raised the debate while touching off a political storm with a series of tweets deriding the new Narendra Modi cabinet, reports NDTV.
What a Cabinet of Modi?HRD Minister (Looking after Education) Smriti Irani is not even a graduate!Look at her affidavit at ECI site pg 11!— Ajay Maken (@ajaymaken) May 27, 2014
"What a Cabinet of Modi? HRD Minister (Looking after Education) Smriti Irani is not even a graduate! Look at her affidavit at ECI site pg 11 (sic)!" Maken tweeted, immediately inviting sharp reactions.
However his partymen frowned upon his comment and advised its members to attack the new government only on "substantive policy issues."
BJP defends Smriti Irani, asks 'what is Sonia's qualification?' http://t.co/OVZHW1DYvR— Times of India (@timesofindia) May 28, 2014
"Distinction must be made between literacy, education and intelligence. Such individual attacks are avoidable," observed senior Congress leader and former union minister Manish Tewari. "Our critique of the new government should be on substantive policy issues rather than being individual or personality-centric," he added.
Also the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) condemned the statement.
"It is very unfortunate if such things are said about her. Smriti Irani speaks in Hindi and English in Parliament and Modi has kept her qualifications in mind," said Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad at a briefing on Modi's first cabinet meeting.
Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah also criticised Maken's comment. "To say that someone needs to be educated to be HRD Min is like saying one needs to be a pilot for Civil Aviation or a miner for Coal Min (sic)," Abdullah tweeted later on Tuesday.
Row over Smriti Irani's educational qualifications snowballs, it's Congress vs Congress now http://t.co/R6c97OwUMZ— TOI India (@TOIIndiaNews) May 28, 2014
Many on twitter criticised Maken's comments on Smriti Irani as "sexist" and "elitist". "Someone remind me. Did Rabindranath Tagore go to university? he certainly established one & had enlightened views on education," tweeted political commentator Swapan Dasgupta.
The BJP stormed to power with a massive mandate, seizing 282 seats in the 543-member Parliament and reducing the Congress to a historic low of 44 seats nationwide.
Maken, who headed the Congress' communications department, was one of the seven Congress lawmakers who lost their seats in Delhi.
Modi took oath as India's 15th Prime Minister, with a lean team of 45 ministers in a grand ceremony at the presidential palace Rashtrapati Bhavan on Monday.
On day-1, some ministers drew attention for the wrong reasons.
Jitendra Singh, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, sparked a controversy with his comment that he personally favoured doing away with Article 370 of the Constitution granting special status to Jammu and Kashmir.
"Keeping democracy in mind, the PM has said that we should hold discussions," Singh said.
The other minister who was stirred talk was Sanjeev Baliyan, the new Union Minister of State for Agriculture, who was accused of inciting the September communal riots in Muzaffarnagar that left over 60 dead.