From a forever-compromising Tulsi to a no-nonsense politician, what women everywhere can learn from Smriti Irani

Irani’s tenure as Human Resource and Development minister was dogged with controversies

It may come as a surprise to many that Smriti Irani was a harsh critic of Narendra Modi when she joined BJP . In fact, she had threatened to fast unto death demanding Modi’s resignation from CM post over his alleged role in 2002 Gujarat riots. However, she was forced to take back her words as the saffron party had asked her to withdraw her statement or face action.

Known for her no-nonsense attitude, Irani  is considered to be a strong weapon in PM Modi’s armour who can take her rivals head on.  Never to shy away from debate, Irani knows how to give it back to her opponents, be it in TV studio or in parliament. However, Irani’s sharp tongue  and confrontational nature have often drawn  criticism and landed her in controversies.

Born on March 23, 1976 to a Punjabi father and Bengali Mother, Irani completed her early schooling in Delhi.  Irani’s grandfather was associated with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and her mother had worked as a booth worker for BJP.

  Brought up in a middle class family, Smriti’s rise to success was not easy. She worked as a helper at popular fast food giant, Mcdonalds, and even mopped floors as part of her job. Smriti had also made it to the finals of Miss India 1998. Later, She tried her luck in acting and was able to bag a few small roles on television. She has also faetured in a music video by the singer Mika Singh and a sanitary pad commercial. However, her big moment on television came with Ekta Kapoor’s celebrated serial Kyunki saas bhi Kabhi Bahut thi.  Her role of Tulsi, an ideal Bahu made her one of the most popular faces on Indian Television.

However, the affable and ideal bahu of television didn’t take much time to metamorphose her into a powerhouse politician.

Irani juggled between her political and TV career from 2003 to 2008 after which she finally gave up television. She joined Bharatiya Janata party in 2003. She was fielded from Chandni Chowk against veteran lawyer Kapil Sibal for 14th Lok Sabha election in 2004 .  She lost the election. Irrespective of this, soon she was awarded the post of vice-president for the Maharashtra youth wing in 2004.  In August 2011, she was sworn in as a Member of Parliament from Gujarat to the Rajya Sabha. She once again lost to Rahul Gandhi from Amethi in 2014 Lok Sabha election, however, she narrowed the loss margin as compared to last election.

Her life has also been mired by many controversy. When she was given the HRD ministry, one of the biggest problem that her critics had was that she was qualified enough to handle a ministry dealing with education.

 Her education qualification came under intense media scrutiny after it emerged that in 2004 election affidavit she had said that she  holds a bachelor’s degree in arts from the Delhi University which she passed out in 1996 while  in 2014 election affidavit she said that she only completed Part I (first year) of her bachelor’s degree in commerce in the year 1994 from Delhi University’s School of Open Learning (correspondence). Later she also claimed that she also has a degree from the prestigious Yale University in the US.

Irani’s tenure as Human Resource and Development minister was dogged with controversies. From the questions over her education qualification to the allegations of  high-handedness that triggered bureaucrats seeking transfer from her ministry, Irani became a toast of satirical pieces in Indian media. Her handling of  various issues Rohith Vemula case,  Delhi University’s (DU) four-year university programme, German-Sanskrit row,  allegation of meddling in IITs also are beleived to be reasons of her transfer to Textile ministry.

However, despite all these controversies, Irani has been doing well as the textile minister and continues to be one of the most articulate debaters and spokesperson of the party.

Fighting sexism

The moment she was sworn-in as a minister in Modi’s cabinet, images of Irani in swimsuit started doing rounds on social media understating the fact that it does not matter how you have toiled all along  to achieve something, your sex will always be tagged to demean you. Even her rise to ministerial post was seen as a result of her proximity to PM Narendra Modi. It only speaks of the sordid state of affairs in our country, when a woman at a ministerial post has to be constantly reminded of her gender, one could only imagine the plight of woman who do not enjoys even a fraction of Irani’s influence.

Smriti Irani is an example for many women that life doesn’t end with one successful role. And that controversy and criticism should never break your spirits.