By SHAKIR HUSAIN
Normally, a candidate’s education is not a major campaign issue in an Indian election.
But now, at least in one parliamentary constituency, two leading contenders are facing unusual scrutiny of their academic background.
Indian National Congress president Rahul Gandhi is in a high-stakes contest in his traditional stronghold of Amethi in the state of Uttar Pradesh against Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate and federal minister Smriti Irani.
The Congress camp has gone at it hammer and tongs to highlight that Irani is not a university graduate, while senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley wanted to know how Rahul completed his M.Phil. from Cambridge University in Britain without a master’s degree.
Irani has “accepted that she enrolled for an undergraduate course in Delhi University but did not complete it,” Congress spokeswoman Priyanka Chaturvedi said, accusing the minister of “contradiction” in her educational qualifications and affidavits to the Election Commission.
Jaitley, finance minister in the federal BJP government, tried to blunt Priyanka’s attack on Irani, a former television star.
“One day the focus would be on the BJP candidate’s educational qualification, fully forgetting that a public audit of Rahul Gandhi’s academic credentials may leave a lot to be answered. After all, he got an M.Phil without a Master’s degree,” Jaitley tweeted.
Taking a dig at the finance minister, the Congress party’s Twitter handle retorted that “Cambridge offers M.Phil straight from undergrad.”
That would be different from India’s university system where a master’s degree is required to enroll for M.Phil. and Ph.D.
Priyanka’s press conference video clip in which she mockingly said that a new television series was about to be launched, (titled) Kyunki mantri bhi kabhi graduate thi (because the minister was a graduate, too), has been shared thousands of times on social media.
Her words on Friday were a play on the title of a hit Indian television show called Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi (because a mother-in-law was also a daughter-in-law once) in which Irani played the character of a daughter-in-law.
As per the election nomination papers, Irani passed secondary school examination in 1991 and senior secondary school examination in 1993.
Priyanka said Irani did not complete her bachelor of commerce degree from Delhi University’s School of Open Learning.
The controversy on both Rahul and Irani’s academic backgrounds is not new.
It has been reignited as they are battling for voter attention in one of India’s most popularly known parliamentary seats.
Amethi was earlier represented in parliament by Rahul’s mother Sonia Gandhi and on four occasions by his father and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Rahul himself is a three-term member of parliament from Amethi and defeated Irani in the 2014 election.
The BJP is investing considerably in Irani’s campaign against Rahul and Amethi is expected to see an intense contest, made more interesting by the debate on the candidates’ academic qualifications.
An opposition alliance in Uttar Pradesh has decided not to field a candidate in Amethi, thus helping the Congress to consolidate its vote base.
Did Rahul do his M.Phil without a master’s degree?
Apparently, this controversy was settled a long time ago.
According to an old report in the Hindu newspaper, a university letter in this regard confirms Rahul’s credentials.
“The University of Cambridge would like to clarify that Mr. Rahul Gandhi was a student at the University of Cambridge as a member of Trinity College from October 1994, to July 1995, and was awarded an M.Phil in Development Studies in 1995,” read the letter. – Bernama