Five months after her astrologer Nathulal Vyas of Bhilwara, Rajasthan, predicted that Smriti Zubin Irani will be the president of India in five years, Smriti, it seems, would need more than just astrological interventions to please the gods of the Sangh parivar. In the 11 months she has been a Union minister, and reportedly a favourite with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, everything that could have gone wrong for the 39-year-old leader did. It’s not just in the BJP that she faces opposition; the RSS leadership doesn’t want to indulge her anymore. Sources confirm that she’s “on her way out from the Union cabinet” and “very soon”.
What could have irked the Sangh leadership so much? After all, she was a minister who went into quick and frequent huddles with representatives of the RSS and activists from Sangh outfits working in the field of education. Sources close to the Sangh leadership in Nagpur say, “Smriti Irani clearly lacks basic understanding of the ideological concerns on the issue of education. She doesn’t know how important the HRD ministry is for the Sangh. In fact, for the Sangh, the HRD is the most important of all ministries.” Perhaps Smriti forgot to brush up on the Sangh’s concerns and interests in education.
Else, why would she have crossed swords with Anil Kakodkar, nuclear scientist and IIT-Bombay board chief, someone who is believed to have been cultivated by the RSS over the years? “There’s no doubt the Sangh leadership was unhappy with Smritiji and how she was running the HRD ministry. The last straw actually came last month, when Kakodkarji had to quit from his post because of her. That was unacceptable to the RSS,” a source said.
Sources confirm that the RSS leadership had been receiving constant complaints about Smriti’s behaviour too. “She was rude, oppressive and bossy without any knowledge or information on most issues,” says a leader. It is said that even senior RSS officials who met her had gone back with a “poor impression of the minister”.
Smriti is said to have rubbed too many bureaucrats the wrong way. The Kakodkar affair was the “last straw”.
Bureaucrats with Sangh sympathies, too, had similar tales to report to the RSS bosses. She would “pick and dump at will”, preferred to “humiliate” senior officers, VCs, academics and experts “in public”. Former education secretary Ashok Thakur, believed to be upright and competent, was so stung by Smriti’s rebuke about his passion for golf that he spoke on the issue in his farewell address on retirement. As Smriti looked on, Thakur reportedly told the audience he was happy since he would now have all the time in the world to play golf. Smriti, intent on having the last word, said no one would stop him now.
That may be a separate run-in, but bosses in the RSS have noted that in the past 11 months as many as five joint secretary-level officers have been moved out at Smriti’s whims. For the Sangh, the Kakodkar drama was enough to seal her fate. This despite Smriti walking extra miles to accommodate the Sangh’s chosen few, like Yellapragada Sudarshan Rao at the Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR) and Vishram Jamdar at the Visveswaraya National Institute of Technology. Moreover, the Sangh found her “slow and lacking in pushing the RSS agenda in education” as agreed upon between the RSS and the government. Sources confirm that RSS has conveyed its assessment of Smriti to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP president.
Many in the party and outside attributed Smriti’s imperious behaviour to her favourite flaunt: proximity to 7 RCR. Party sources confirmed that Smriti’s claim of being close to the PM has upset even Amit Shah, the BJP chief, who sources say had warned the PM, and had also taken it badly when she said Shah had taken advantage of Modi’s absence from the country to expel her from the BJP national executive.
So on April 3, as the BJP top brass was discussing the government’s foreign policy at its national executive meet in Bangalore, a spurned Irani, on holiday in Goa, decided to kick up a storm over a camera in a Fabindia store. While many in the BJP dismissed the incident as her “old ways of seeking attention”, the RSS listed it as “yet another despicable attempt by Smriti to court unnecessary controversy”. A source told Outlook “her cabinet rank has gone to her head and that needs to be fixed. We can do without these theatrics”. For Modi’s “chhoti behan Smriti”, a rising star of the BJP, once a challenger to Sushma Swaraj, the wheel may have turned a full circle: a rank outsider given a royal ouster.
By Prarthna Gahilote in Mumbai