The removal of Smriti Irani from the HRD ministry in a major Cabinet reshuffle by the NDA government on Tuesday (July 5) has, besides giving rise to all sorts of speculation, given rise to the question: Does the BJP indulge in a politics of backing one woman to keep another in check?
The rise and fall of Irani hints at such a scenario. In 2014, when the Narendra Modi-led BJP was going all out against the Congress and the Gandhis leading it, Irani found herself to be a big beneficiary. She was fielded against Conrgess vice-president Rahul Gandhi from Amethi---a stronghold of the Gandhis---but although she lost, she had the backing of the BJP's top brass.
Ouster of the "sister"
Modi, who had called her as his "sister" during a rally in Amethi before the general election, backed the idea of giving her the high-profile HRD ministry and even when Irani was fighting the odds in Parliament and outside, the PM tweeted in her favour, saying "Satyamev Jayate".
Smriti was backed as an alternative to Sushma Swaraj, who had her differences with the new BJP leadership
According to reliable sources, the saffron party had backed Smriti to counter Sushma Swaraj---its poster girl who was the best-known female face of the party then but had differences with the Modi-Amit Shah leadership. Irani was even called as "Modi-led BJP's Sushma Swaraj"---someone who fitted perfectly in the scheme of things under a fresh-looking BJP in the Modi era. [The Telegraph takes on Smriti again, calls her "Spinderella"]
But two years down the line, the same top brass clipped Irani's wings when she started fancying an ambition to play a leader in UP and not just confine herself to Amethi. Modi also ensured that Irani's continuity in office did not go on denting his government's image---something he prizes more than anything else. [Smriti loses HRD ministry to Prakash Javadekar]
This time, the BJP backs a well-qualified Anupriya Patel
The BJP leadership also reran the story of elevating the alternative option this time by inducting Apnal Dal leader Anupriya Patel into the cabinet. Patel's OBC background definitely provided the BJP the advantage ahead of the crucial UP election next year but at the same time, her education background in Delhi's reputed Lady Shri Ram College and a Master's degree in Business Administration also caught the eyes.
It may be noted here that Irani's educational qualification was a major point of contention when she had taken over as the HRD minister. Even Madhu Kishwar, a Modi sympathiser, had questioned her credentials to take charge of such an important ministry.
The BJP leadership is perhaps also leaving no stone unturned to kill the possibility of another controversy centred around issues like educational qualification by backing an alternative in Patel.