For most of Monday, the top trending topic on Twitter in India was #yosmritisocertified, as users lampooned education minister Smriti Irani for her claim that she had an undisclosed degree from Yale University.
The education qualifications of Irani, formerly a popular star of family dramas on television, have been a political hot potato ever since she was handed over the Human Resource Development (HRD) ministry in May. Her critics have claimed that she is not fit to be HRD minister since her own educational accomplishments are shrouded in mystery.
Irani, 38, is the youngest member of prime minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet. She has said that she gave up her full-time college education to pursue modelling and acting.
The former Miss India contestant has also made contradictory claims regarding her qualifications in the documents she submitted to the Election Commission. As a candidate in 2004 elections, Irani had declared that she had a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree from Delhi University (School of Correspondence), whereas in 2014 elections she said she had completed Bachelor of Commerce (part-1 or first year) from the same university.
On Saturday, at a conference organised by India Today magazine, she turned defensive when pressed about the discrepancies in her claims. “Please go and file a PIL against me in court, I shall give you your answer in court to settle this once and for all,” she said.
To an earlier question, Irani said: “I do have a degree from Yale as well, which I can bring out and show how Yale celebrated my leadership capacity.”
On Monday, the HRD ministry clarified that Irani was invited to participate in a 6-day long leadership program at Yale. She has a certificate for the said programme, not a degree.
However, this is not the first time that a prominent Indian politician has misled the country by exaggerating or lying about their academic achievements. Here are some previous offenders:
Sonia Gandhi: The president of the ousted Congress Party has had to face embarrassing questions about her background ever since she decided to assume public office. Her bio-data, submitted to the Lok Sabha, stated that she had received a diploma in English from Cambridge University. After a complaint by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, officials at 10 Janpath acknowledged that the word “university” in the Lok Sabha publication was a “typographical error” and that Sonia acquired a diploma in English from another institute in Cambridge.
Varun Gandhi: In 2009, the great-grandson of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru had claimed that he is a graduate from the London School of Economics (LSE), and has a Master’s degree from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Both universities said Gandhi’s claim is inaccurate. “Varun Gandhi applied for admission to LSE, but was rejected,” a senior administrator from LSE told Indian Express newspaper in 2009. Varun is a BJP leader.
Mamta Banerjee: The chief minister of West Bengal had flaunted a PhD from East Georgia University, USA in the 1980s. It was later discovered that the university did not exist.
Such tweaking is not limited to political leaders. Fudging resumes is apparently commonplace among jobseekers. According to background screening firm AuthBridge, nearly one in five candidates embellish their CVs with fake education and employment details.