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 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 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 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 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.