New Delhi: Congress leader Ajay Maken has touched off a political storm with a series of tweets deriding the new Narendra Modi cabinet. In one of them, he questioned the educational qualifications of Smriti Irani, who has taken over as Human Resource Development Minister.
"What a Cabinet of Modi? HRD Minister (Looking after Education) Smriti Irani is not even a graduate! Look at her affidavit at ECI site pg 11 (sic)!" Mr Maken tweeted, immediately inviting sharp reactions.
The ruling BJP condemned the statement. "It is very unfortunate if such things are said about her. Smriti Irani speaks in Hindi and English in Parliament and Mr Modi has kept her qualifications in mind," said Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad at a briefing on Mr Modi's first cabinet meeting. (MeetNarendra Modi's Council of Ministers)
Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah also criticised Mr Maken's comment. "To say that someone needs to be educated to be HRD Min is like saying one needs to be a pilot for Civil Aviation or a miner for Coal Min (sic)," Mr Abdullah tweeted later on Tuesday.
Many on twitter criticized Mr Maken's comments on Smriti Irani as "sexist" and "elitist". "Someone remind me. Did Rabindranath Tagore go to university? he certainly established one & had enlightened views on education," tweeted political commentator Swapan Dasgupta.
The BJP stormed to power with a massive mandate, seizing 282 seats in the 543-member Parliament and reducing the Congress to a historic low of 44 seats nationwide. (PrimeMinister Narendra Modi's Council of Ministers: The Complete List)
Mr Maken, who headed the Congress' communications department, was one of the seven Congress MPs who lost their seats in Delhi.
Mr Modi took oath as India's 15th Prime Minister, with a lean team of 45 ministers in a grand ceremony at the presidential palace Rashtrapati Bhavan on Monday.
On day 1, some ministers drew attention for the wrong reasons.
Jitendra Singh, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, sparked a controversy with his comment that he personally favoured doing away with Article 370 of the Constitution granting special status to Jammu and Kashmir. (After Row, Minister Jitendra Singh Clarifies Remark on Article 370)
"Keeping democracy in mind, the PM has said that we should hold discussions," Mr Singh said.
The other minister who was stirred talk was Sanjeev Baliyan, the new Union Minister of State for Agriculture, who was accused of inciting the September communal riots in Muzaffarnagar that left over 60 dead.(I Want to Leave the Riots Behind and Peace to Return to Muzaffarnagar: Sanjeev Baliyan)