Watching the endless chatter on television on the academic credentials of Smriti Irani makes one want to squirm in embarrassment. How does it matter what degree she has or does not have as long as she is professional, disciplined, and is willing to bring on board experts who would be proactive in helping her navigate the maze of inherited baggage towards fulfilling her policy agenda? Ministers need to be open minded. They ought to be catalysts who attract ideas and innovations that help in embracing diverse people and communities to carve out creative, active spaces for change and development.
Over the years, there has been a tendency to degrade general knowledge and discontinue it as an important subject in the school syllabus. Increasingly, young people — for instance those who have graduated in the last three decades — are apathetic to anything that deviates from the compartmentalized study of math, physics, chemistry, Hindi, English et al. Subjects are studied by rote. Students are not interested in acquiring knowledge that comes from beyond the prescribed text book. This leaves gaping holes in the learning process. Students leave school totally unprepared for what could be the start of an exciting life of exploration where garnering information and facts, views and opinions, could become the anchor and mainstay of living in a rapidly changing world.
So whether Irani has a bachelors degree or not does not matter. There was no need whatsoever for her to suggest that the week-long stint at Yale resulted in a ‘degree’, because it did not. The fact that she got entangled in a row over her academic credentials does not behove a minister in the Central cabinet. If Yale denies her claim, it would make the episode even more absurd. Someone, somewhere needs to put an end to this ridiculous saga with an apology for mocking public sensibility.
Very often, men and women holding PhDs turn out to be poor managers in politics. Degrees do not necessarily determine competence in policy and governance. Those who govern bring other skills to the table, the most important being the management of ideas and people. A high quotient of general knowledge and common sense with a dollop of everyday, ordinary experience, along with a strong will to deliver the goods, are what makes for a worthwhile minister. India had suffered at the hands of those who believed that they know it all because of their lofty degrees, men and women who had never operated at ground zero!
If we compare the eras of both Indira Gandhi (someone without high academic accomplishments) with that of Manmohan Singh (who possesses significant academic qualifications), it is clear that she was in complete command while he was drifting without a firm hand ruling his destiny. She lost an election but returned triumphant within a few months. The Congress under Singh’s leadership had become a shadow of its former self. Many of the greatest inventors, innovators, writers, performers, artists, stars, leaders, and so on, are school and college drop-outs. They were motivated by dreams and passions that lay outside the confines and rigid parameters of inflexible learning norms. Irani could have showcased the importance of passion and commitment as desirable ingredients to achieve goals.
The world has changed. There is a plethora of opportunities, options and choices to satisfy the mind and soul. India, as the largest pool of human resource and skills on this planet, needs to support all that is waiting to blossom outside the compartments that are sanctuaries for the ordinary. We must salute minds and not degrees.