Bharatiya Janta Party leader Smriti Irani at a swearing-in ceremony for new cabinet ministers, New Delhi, May 26.
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s selection to head the ministry which oversees India’s struggling education sector has sparked a debate about the importance of the education levels of the country’s leaders.
Mr. Modi selected Bharatiya Janata Party politician Smriti Irani as minister of human resource development. Ms. Irani, 38, is the youngest member of Mr. Modi’s new cabinet and never finished college.
Senior Congress party leader and former cabinet minister, Ajay Maken, was quick to point out on Twitter that Ms. Irani does not have a college degree.
While a spokesman for Mr. Maken declined to comment, the BJP defended its choice.
“It’s tasteless,” said Nalin Kohli, a spokesman for the BJP referring to the tweet. Integrity, hard work and honesty are among the criteria used to select ministers, and Ms. Irani has all “in ample measure,” he said.
Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi said on local television that Ms. Irani’s 2004 and 2014 filings with Election Commission list different educational qualifications. Her 2004 filing says: “B.A. 1996 Delhi University (School of Correspondence). The 2014 filing says:  “Bachelor of Commerce Part – 1, School of Open Learning (Correspondence), University of Delhi – 1994.”
A spokesman for the Ministry of Human Resource Development declined to comment. Ms. Irani could not be reached for comment.
On the two affidavits, BJP spokesman Mr. Kohli said “I’m sure Smriti will answer.”
“It appears the Congress is agenda-less and clueless. Perhaps they would like to reflect on the quality of their leadership before they comment on the educational qualifications of ministers who have been sworn in 24 hours ago,” he added.
Education has rarely been the basis for the selection of India’s political leaders. Many have risen through the ranks without college degrees.
In Mr. Modi’s new cabinet, Uma Bharti, minister of water resources, for example, ended her formal schooling after the fifth grade, according to data from the Association for Democratic Reforms.
Mr. Modi’s cabinet also has its fair share of highly-educated ministers — several have law degrees, including Arun Jaitley, heading the ministries of finance and defense, and Sushma Swaraj, the first female minister of external affairs.
But Ms. Irani’s appointment raised eyebrows because the actress-turned-politician onlycompleted one year at Delhi University’s correspondence school before she started working. She rose to fame as a model and actress and is best known for playing the lead role in a popular television soap opera about the fraught relationships between a bride and her mother-in-law.
On social media, Ms. Irani’s critics said she does not have the experience or the education needed to fix India’s educational system.
Still, some political leaders and prominent intellectuals came out in support of Ms. Irani.
– Nupur Acharya contributed to this post.
Follow Shanoor on Twitter @shanoorseervai.
Follow India Real Time on Twitter @WSJIndia.