"I am a living example of PM Modi's tolerance .. he forgave me though I publicly attacked him," Human Resource Minister Smriti Irani told NDTV's Barkha Dutt in an exclusive interview on Tuesday. Tearing into actor Aamir Khan for his comments on perceived "intolerance", Ms Irani also said that his criticism at a public event in the presence of a union minister proved that there is free speech in India.
Following is the full transcript of the show:
NDTV: My guest today on Buck Stops Here could perhaps be best described by one word and the word I would use is un-put-down able. The other word some people may use is combative. She entered the Modi Government's cabinet as its youngest Minister and has been in the headlines ever since. It is my pleasure to welcome on The Buck Stops Here the Minister for Humans Resource Development, Smriti Irani. I am glad we are finally doing this at your residence here in Delhi and we are going to take a morning walk through a very interesting neighbourhood, because I believe Rahul Gandhi lives not too far away from here.
Smriti Irani: Lives right across the road, my apology for delaying the interview with you, you have been pursuing for the past one and half year and I had a good reason to delay it.
NDTV: What's the reason?
Smriti Irani: Well you have a hate-hate relationship with our supporters online and most of our supporters have this angst that if Barkha is not kind in her words, her retorts and her interactions with us so why would we have la di da kind of relationship with her.
NDTV: I will tell you something about those online supporters. They seem to watch everything I do, chapter and worst they quote it, even if they don't like me they don't ignore me.
Smriti Irani: I think you are not the only one they watch, I feel that the internet has now has given us that additional leverage where we are not dictated to, by or projected by a particular image, by a particular set of people. I think in the age of Google every citizen is now empowered with additional information, citizens who do not hide behind the cloak of anonymity but they come out with documents or interesting data and they don't want to be sitting ducks who are doled out a narrative they want to engage, at times that engagement gets heated.
NDTV: You are just fine but shouldn't one engage with all manners of opinion. Like even if your supporters you say don't like me, as a politician don't you think you should engage with all kinds of opinions, all shades of media?
Smriti Irani: As a politician I engage with all kinds of opinions irrespective of whether they are in the media or not. As a politician who has fought one of the toughest electoral battles in 2014 I was witness to the people who are architects, lawyers who go to 9 to 5 job who left everything and came to Amethi. I had a women who was 7 months pregnant, left aside, everything, irrespective of her health challenges, sat there because she believed in an ideology and when I look back as to who do I owe my success to, it is these people to whom I owe my success to, it is these people to whom I am answerable to apart from the people of the country whom I serve as a captain.
NDTV: I am glad that you are doing this interview. On a lighter note there are some Modi supporters who don't like either me or you. I can think of one Madhu Kishwar. So you say we have more in common than you know.
Smriti Irani: Well I don't know whether that is a compliment or not.
NDTV: It's just a joke. It's just a joke.
Smriti Irani: I can only say this much that the dissent we see, irrespective of which ideology you belong to, it's very bedrock of democracy. To say a democracy prospers only if one set of voices is heard would be untrue. I have seen dissent, I have as a woman seen objectification and I have let a lot of thing come in my stride because I feel that if it is a democratic right of an individual to speak against me then that individual does not need my prior approval to say what they feel, even if it is venomous or scandalous about...
NDTV: Were you taken aback by Madhu Kishwar's very, very scathing, almost personal criticism of you, she seem to resent the fact you were given this Ministry, some people joke that may be she thought that she would get this Ministry?
Smriti Irani: I don't use this platform even today, when I have the opportunity to express myself to give individual attention to one individual who deems it fit to criticise me, how personal attack they mount it's their choice.
NDTV: Were you hurt, were you angry? You know you are very quick to retaliate to other of your critics online but I have never seen you retaliating on Miss Kishwar?
Smriti Irani: I always attack somebody who is trying to spread disinformation but I am also intelligent enough to know when there is a particular imagery that is being projected, only so that I can be engaged and be part of mudslinging so I know how to differentiate between the two.
NDTV: So do you think that's what she is trying to do?
Smriti Irani: Like I said if you are wasting five minutes of your interview with me on her that's your prerogative.
NDTV: That's a good point I was only making a limited joke that we have that in common.
Smriti Irani: No, I think one needs to recognise that beyond our Constitutional positions we are human beings. So when you talk about me in a particular light I do need to recognise that my children, my family also read, also watch and more than anything else. I am answerable to them to allay their fear as to why people talk about me like this. For instance, just a month ago, I went to my son's PTM who is 14 years old and his class teacher told me that Mrs Irani don't you have a saas or a mother at home? I said why? She says well you are too much on TV.
NDTV: What does that mean?
Smriti Irani: And you are a politician and I think you don't have time to raise your kids. But that is her opinion. This is a working woman herself, this is not as if she is somebody who is traditionally looked upon as regressive, this is a working woman who has her point of view and I wanted to say something, my 14 year old son held me back. He said don't and I said why and he said you speak as a working mother and she looks at you as a minister.
NDTV: That's very grown up of him at 14.
Smriti Irani: Your kids also tend to grow up because they look at all this around. I had a colleague and he is lawyer of a repute and I can't name him, his 14 year old daughter was picked up by a bunch of people who are anti Modi and they had that child and they told that child that your father is supporting Modi and you should speak against your father. They called a journalist, a female journalist and said to interview this child she would give some bombastic headlines against her father. It's the journalist who said I can't do this to a minor kid and walked away, but this is a story of our life which is never get told.
NDTV: Let me ask you, since you have spoken about your kids and they must look at you being in the headlines all the time. Have you made your peace when being in the headlines all the time often for some would say for wrong reasons?
Smriti Irani: I have been a public person for the last 15 years and what are the right reasons? Am I to be quiet only because now I am a minister, am I supposed to, as some youngsters call it, lump it and be absolutely quiet when somebody tries to spread disinformation? There are times when many issues, when I was in Goa. When that incident happened and people said arre chup kyun nahi the aap, aapko bolna nahi chahiye tha. I said aap kya expect karte hain ki agar koi purush aisa kare toh mein kya kahoon bhai sahab ki mein abla naari hoon mat kijiye. So as a women it is my right to call the police, ye toh mein Cabinet mantra hon isliye mein apni Constitutional mariyaada ko samajhti hoon aur mene uss gusse ke saath react nahi kiya jaise ek saadharan mahila karti pehle maarti fir police ko bulati. Mene kaha lakin meri ek mariyada hai uss mariyada mein mere jo adhikar hain jo mein kar sakti hoon police ko bulana who mene kiya. So irrespective of the fact that I am supposed to be a dim, your cabinet minister.
NDTV: I don't think that word has ever been used for you, that is one word that has never been used.
Smriti Irani: I am supposed to lump it and people are supposed to tell me when it is appropriate to talk. But my understanding is when did I give up my right to free speech when I became a minister. So I was recently at the women in the world.
NDTV: I was right there with Tina Brown. I was going to ask about that. You said that now women, in your experience in India, are not dictated to what she should do, what she should read and what she should wear?
Smriti Irani: My experience is when people talk about me and I have said this and not hidden it, I am from a swayam sevak family, an imagery of a swayam sevak's family or a sangh parivar is that women are suppressed; they are regressive and are dictated to by men. My personal experience, with not only my life but also from those women who are from sangh parivar is that they have not generally been dictated to. So I think it's a measure of tolerance that I being a Cabinet minister can sit in and get booed by those people who claim that there is no freedom of speech in the country. Traditionally I'd rather as an individual, rather be booed by for demonising my people.
NDTV: Whom are you referring to?
Smirti Irani: Anybody who says that you know, everybody's aggressive; every man in this country is either a chauvinist or a rapist that is not true of my nation. I personally as a Hindu woman, what is my experience, I spoke of my experience, I'm raising two children in the religion of Zoroastrianism. Any Parsee, ask them what Ashem Bahu and Nethau Geru are, they are Parsee prayers from the Awestha, I am the one who taught it to my kids.
NDTV: But you're not just speaking as a Minister, for yourself, and, for your own experience, right?
Smriti Irani: That was my own experience.
NDTV: But Khap panchayats, college diktats on dress code, sexual violence, women today who get abused are still told it's your fault that you were out at that time
Smriti Irani: This is not a challenge that is contained only to India. There is a rape, abuse, incest national network in the US, which says that the number of reported sexual assault cases is around 2,93,000 in the US. In India, your National Crime Records Bureau shows that the number of reported assaults is 36,000, thereabouts. UN Women says that 50% of the cases all across the world go unreported, which means that this challenge about a woman's sexuality, or for that matter a woman's right to express what she seriously feels, is not only a challenge that our nation or our society faces. I mean, NDTV carried a report, where the Fed chair, Janet Yellan, was written to by an American male politician, that if you don't know how to, you know, work your offices, sit with your Nobel Laureate, Economic Professor husband...
NDTV: No, I agree that gender is a universal question, it's not an India-specific one, I believe that too, but when you say that women are not dictated to, you're speaking for all women.
Smriti Irani: I said it's my experience.
NDTV: How did you react to the booing?
Smriti Irani: I didn't.
NDTV: How did you feel inside when you were jeered at for those comments?
Smriti Irani: I said very openly if you have a problem tell me. If I need to engage or something I can reach out to any woman who says that she has a problem and needs somebody to engage with, somebody in society.
NDTV: But you are aware that women do face these challenges every day and you're presenting a portrait of women...
Smriti Irani: I said in my experience.
NDTV: Your personal experience?
Smriti Irani: My personal experience, not only with my life, but that of other women that I've known, is different.
NDTV: Isn't your experience rare?
Smriti Irani: No, No.
NDTV: Women, all around when we open the newspapers, women we know, women work as...
Smriti Irani: Let's presume I talk about my experience with you, now, who tells Barkha Dutt what to dress? How to dress?
NDTV: Nobody. But, I recognize that I come perhaps from a background of privilege, that I'm rare, I come from an unusually liberal family. My parents never pressured me.
Smriti Irani: I don't come from a unit family; I come from a Sang Parivar, Swayam Sevak family.
NDTV: Our Khap Panchayats are two hours from Delhi.
Smriti Irani: Is there a Khap Panchayat in a US academic institution, which says women are not to wear provocative...
NDTV: Gender discrimination is universal. It is universal. But it's also...
Smriti Irani: That is what I'm saying. So everywhere there is a challenge. Is there a Taliban or a Khap Panchayat in the US, telling women, you should wear this and you should not wear that? So why only say that only we have an Indian problem? You have an international problem in terms of discourse, in terms of engagement. You can't wish it away.
NDTV: So when you look back at those statements you made at the Women in the World Summit...
Smriti Irani: I spoke of my experience.
NDTV: And you stand by that, you don't feel could have articulated that a little bit differently?
Smriti Irani: Barkha, articulation cannot depend on the, like I said, prior approval, or for that matter, you know, guarantee of embracement by others. Free speech is about I having as much a right to speak as somebody else from another ideology, or for that matter, no ideology at all. Why would be I be told, that why don't you speak the correct thing, that is curbing of freedom of expression of speech. The fact that I can speak freely, get booed, and still look at the eyes of that particular audience, which is distinct from others that I meet, and I said, well, if you have a problem, tell me, I'm willing to reach out and help. There was a little bit of, you know, disconcerting nonsense that, "Arrey, domestic violence to shehron mein nahin hota" People were upset! That, this only happens in the dusty by-lanes of some village.
NDTV: That's not true.
Smriti Irani: People forget there was a, I remember a Boman Irani ad, where there was a ghanti bajao ad "ghanti koi gaaon mein nahin baja raha, sheher mein baja raha hai," so you can't wish it away.
NDTV: That's the point. People thought you were wishing it away.
Smriti Irani: I was not. I was giving facts right there. They want to be subjective and selective about the facts that they choose and pick.
NDTV: But tell me when a Sakshi Maharaj speaks of Hindu women needing to produce five children, I mean, isn't that a kind of dictating to women what they should do?
Smriti Irani: As a Swayam Sevak Satsangachalak Mohan Bhagwati, I said that that is not a correct statement to make. There is a Congressman in Kerala who says that every woman in the Congress party has to compromise to get a ticket.
NDTV: Yes, sexism is not particular to one country, one city, one party.
Smriti Irani: I'm saying that, why is it that an outrage is made only for a selective few and not for everybody. I have been in Parliament. Sharad....
NDTV: You have been at the receiving end of sexism, Smriti, by Sharad Yadav, and we all, we all stood up as women, at least I did, and condemned it outright.
Smriti Irani: I have it every day, even in my working life. You know there's an IIT professor, there was an IIT women's alumni meet, the Council Chairperson of IITs. And I always ask organisations that when you want to call me, make sure that there is unanimity of view that you want to engage with me, in terms of me giving a lecture. I have an email, where the guy says that otherwise she's brain dead, but her appearance will make it interesting.
NDTV: What is the most sexist thing you've heard said to you about you?
Smriti Irani: Barkha, I do not confine myself to the negativity that comes my way.
NDTV: But still, as a woman in public life.
Smriti Irani: If that was my way of functioning, I would have been submerged in the negativity and never have managed to stand up to respond, and focus on my work.
NDTV: But as you said you're not just a politician you're also a human. And you're a woman; you're a woman in public life.
Smriti Irani: I think that you will judge me when you say that in the past one and a half years, what has been my contribution as a politician. The Prime Minister spoke from the Red Fort and said, "is there a possibility that we have around two and a half lakh schools, without separate toilets for girls, can we make those toilets in one year? It is an infrastructure impossibility for people," but I did it, in one year. But nobody spoke about it because these are the positive messages nobody cares about. For the first time a so-called anpadh me leverages technology to ensure all NCERT books...
NDTV: "So-called anpadh you?"
Smriti Irani: No, I don't mind. I have said this in a Woman in the World interview also, that...
Smriti Irani: When I think of the Sanskrit shlok, vidya dadati vinayam, it means with knowledge comes humility and those who would want to objectify me, academically might be knowledgeable, but possibly that humility has not seeped in, that means that the knowledge is not working wonders.
NDTV: Okay, you've mentioned the IIT professor, an IIT professor takes me to some of the central controversies that have, you know, dogged you, vis-a-vis your ministry. Let's start with Anil Kakodkar.
Smriti Irani: Though, I've never spoken about it.
NDTV: Well, I hope you'll be speaking about it for the first time today. Anil Kakodkar said that you had a very casual; your ministry had a very casual approach to how IIT Directors were being selected. He didn't want to be part of the process. He put in his papers, he then said that you convinced him to stay on and complete his term. Now that all that is behind us, do you think antagonizing somebody as respected a nuclear scientist like Anil Kakodkar is something that could have been handled a little differently?
Smriti Irani: The problem lies in the question that you posed.
NDTV: What's the problem?
Smriti Irani: Is my responsibility towards the tax-payer, and those even who don't pay taxes; is my responsibility towards them, or am I to use my office to make sure that I cozy up to any such people that you deem intellectual, or who are celebrated as intellectual? Why I say this is that I have never spoken about Dr Kakodkar and I say this today. I, as a chairperson of IIT Council, had an opportunity to sit on selection of three Directors. As propriety, and as the law demands, chairperson of each IIT was very much a part of the selection process. People are supposed to apply for the job, get interviewed and then come up the final round. I saw a name which had not applied for the job, which had not done any interviews, and I told Dr Kakodkar that I'm stepping out for a Parliamentary meeting, kindly ensure that this name, which has not applied for the job, which has not given any interviews, does not make it to the final round because it's illegal and it's improper.
NDTV: Which name was it?
Smriti Irani: Whichever, it's a part of the record.
NDTV: And you're saying that name had not gone through the due process.
Smriti Irani: Due process and I said, "Who picked that name?" and he said, "I did", I said, "Sir, with all due respect, this cannot happen." I said, "In my absence, kindly do not interview this gentleman; otherwise you will sully the entire process." I come back, and I'm told, "Maine interview kar liya hai", I said, "Sir, in that case, you have to call everybody who applied for the job again, so that they give their interviews again, and this gentleman be told that next time he wants a job, kindly put in a word, by applying for the job, giving interviews, going through the due process. He was slighted, that I am Dr Kakodkar, why won't you listen to me. I said, "I'm supposed to listen to the rule of law. Does that mean that I get clobbered in the media for what Dr Kakodkar said about me? Absolutely, that is his right, but what I'm saying today, our papers which are available, which I can prove in a court of law, and who did we end up picking, we ended up picking one of the foremost names who has designed communication technology, we picked a guy called Pushkar Bhattacharya who's celebrated for his work in ICT's, especially in the translation of languages. These are the quality men of academia that we picked. But the story got completely overshadowed by Dr Kakodkar who was visibly upset. Why? Because an upstart of a minister said, "follow the law!" Eminence does not give you the right in any fashion to break the law
NDTV: And you are saying Dr Kakodkar was trying to break the law?
Smriti Irani: I am not trying to cast any aspersion. Whatever, I have given you a factual recount on the story. My request is eminence does not give you the right to break the law, no way gives you an opportunity or handle to break the law. What I speak today is very much on file and I never speak without evidence.
NDTV: If he had indeed bent the rules as you are suggesting, why is it that after he resigned you did ask him, according to him, to complete his term?
Smriti Irani: He was supposed to complete his term. I spoke to him, Sir would you please complete your term and he said, yes, it's as simple as that. An opportunity was an attempt to deviate from a process; a new process was stopped by me. But I was pragmatic enough to say that you are in a leadership role, which you will like to fulfill your obligations to the institution you fit in.
NDTV: So you are saying Dr Kakodkar was pushing his own candidate, you intervened and that's why he is angry with you?
Smriti Irani: This is not the interview about Dr Kakodkar or Madhu Kishwar, this interview about me. It is one of my decisions, which is there on paper, it is not something that I can fabricate or be at the top of my head. Tomorrow if I have to answer this in Parliament I have the papers to prove it.
NDTV: Okay, let us move to another controversy, if we can use that word, often accompanies discussions of the HRD Ministry that many of the key appointees are people who have an affinity with the RSS. Although you've just said that you've had a long family association for many years, but I can't imagine you separate that from being a minister.
Smriti Irani: But I'm not saying that that qualifies you as an academician who shall be appointed. I'm very clear on that.
NDTV: Okay, when we look at the gentleman who heads the ICHR, the Indian Council for Historical Research, who has argued more than once that Ramayana and Mahabharata are in fact historic texts, who has on occasions justified and validated the caste system.
Smriti Irani: Let me tell you this, the gentleman you speak about was made a national professor by none other than Arjun Singh, who was not a Sanghi nor was he a BJP member. He was a stalwart. Now does that imply that Arjun Singh was a closet RSS man? So how is it okay for a Congress stalwart to pick an academician and not okay for me?
NDTV: Isn't the ICHR Head a bigger deal than a national professor?
Smriti Irani: I'm saying that one needs to understand that just because you have a particular ideological affinity or a background of any sort, that doesn't mean that constitutionally you don't have a right to receive a job, or a post, or that you are otherwise deemed fit for under a Congress regime.
NDTV: Do you agree with his views? As Minister for HRD are you concerned that the person in charge for ICHR believed Ramayana and Mahabharata to be historical texts?
Smriti Irani: As a Minister in a government I cannot subscribe to or propagate my personal views, I'm in a Constitutional position where people were appointed for their responsibility have, the right to speak what they feel is academically in the realm of their responsibility.
NDTV: There must have been some basis to appoint him?
Smriti Irani: If you start asking me about my personal views about a lot of things possibly that will mean that I'm unfit to be in this Constitutional position where I have to take every voice along, so as much as I support an IIT professor who talks about my appearance, he makes sexual innuendos and objectifies me and I don't respond to it, similarly I don't respond to anybody else because my Constitutional position is to guarantee that everybody who worked within an institution of academic repute has a right to their view, as long as they administer the institution well.
NDTV: But there must have been a professional to make that appointment?
Smriti Irani: ICHR appointments are made when a panel comes of academicians that they deem fit and they ask the government to pick a name. So whoever made that charge possibly doesn't know of that due process.
NDTV: Were you a part of that process?
Smriti Irani: No. You have to be equidistant. So when you're given a panel, you just apply one name and you say 'fine I accept your panel.' You do not say I don't accept or for that matter 'you think of another name.' That is what happens in all appointments.
NDTV: But why is there a perception that it's only after this government has come to power that someone like Dinanath Batra gets to have as much of a say in the education policy as he does? Look at the headlines from 2 days ago, in Haryana a BJP government; he is going to be advising them on education.
Smriti Irani: Please understand that it is democratically elected state government. Am I to say that I will usurp the powers of a democratically elected state government just because I don't agree with it or just because I endorse it or for that matter I want to propagate it? My responsibility as a Cabinet minister is to be equidistant. Karnataka, for instance, wanted primary education in the mother tongue and had an Assembly, which unanimously passed such a resolution. There is no saffron government in Karnataka. It is the right of that Assembly to pass a law as they deem fit. Whether that upholds the scrutiny of law in the Supreme Court, which it turned down is the right of the Supreme Court. But as a minister, I am equidistant from all of them because this is a concurrent subject, which binds me from not going beyond that constitutional maryada.
NDTV: But you know when you look at Dinanath Batra's textbooks, which were part of supplementary books in Gujarat, for instance...
Smriti Irani: Again, one needs to understand curriculum falls within the realm of state, teacher appointments, and teacher transfers falls within the realm of the state. Does not fall within the jurisdiction of the Central government. We might set a constitutional standard and law for the entire nation, but we cannot usurp the powers of a state government and tell them how to function.
NDTV: Smriti you're a parent. Would you want your kids to read books in which it is suggested that if you blow out candles on a cake on your birthday, it is something wrong to do because it's Western? Would you want your kids to read books written by Dinanath Batra?
Smriti Irani: I'll tell you as a parent since you asked. I have a child in the 9th standard and one in 7th standard. I'm teaching my child 7th standard civics. What is it written in a 7th standard civics? That this country is so unequal that the poor have no rights; this is there in his civics book.
NDTV: That's ridiculous.
Smriti Irani: Secondly, my son in his history book gets to learn that Lokmanya Tilak is an extremist. The same child reads a newspaper in the morning and knows that extremism is defined by a man like Osama Bin Laden. I have to sit there as a parent and tell him how Tilak was not an extremist but Osama was. So like I said, challenges are a plenty but I need to distinguish between the parent and the Minister and that is what I do every day.
NDTV: But even as you're talking here, today, there is a seminar
Smriti Irani: What is interesting is that how come you never do stories?
Smriti Irani: On the fact that Tilak is being presented as an extremist
NDTV: But textbook curriculum has long been a subject of media debate.
Smriti Irani: How come there has never been a 'We The People' on demonizing great freedom fighters like Tilak or Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose? Or for that matter even a Bagha Jain does not get a mention.
NDTV: There have been many 'We The People's where on whether politics has taken over textbook writing by the right or the left, I include the Left in it, I do include Left in it.
Smriti Irani: So when you are specific to a political Individual in modern context also be specific about the other historical grades who have genuinely been projected in a very unjustified fashion.
NDTV: So you are saying Barkha is a hypocrite, she hasn't done these shows, but you haven't answered my question.
Smriti Irani: I am not saying it, you are saying it; it's a declaration by Barkha Dutt, but not by me
NDTV: I am being ironic but let's come to the question. What is Dinanath Batra for you? I am asking this to you because even today Delhi University Sanskrit department is organising a seminar, he is a keynote speaker, he is advising Haryana Government
Smriti Irani: Autonomy cannot be conditional. I cannot say Delhi University has autonomy for every other thing but one seminar. I cannot say Haryana Government has a constitutional right to declare certain policies for its state but for this one particular individual.
NDTV: What is the influence that Dinanath Batra has on your Ministry?
Smriti Irani: Nothing, zero.
NDTV: Have you met him?
Smriti Irani: No.
NDTV: He has never come to meet you?
Smriti Irani: No, why would he come to meet me?
NDTV: Because he is advising one BJP government on their education policy, Haryana. He is writing supplementary text books in Gujarat.
Smriti Irani: You can flog this horse as much as you want, but what I have not done I should not declare.
NDTV: How do you see him? How do you see Dinanth Batra?
Smriti Irani: I don't.
NDTV: What do you mean by I don't? He does not matter?
Smriti Irani: I am not saying that. As a citizen he has a right to his opinion and speech and his expression but why would I sit in judgement of him just because I am a Cabinet minister? Do I sit in judgement of you?
NDTV: I think sometimes you do.
Smriti Irani: No, if I did Barkha, I would say arrey aapko ED ka notice mila mujhe interview nahi karna chahiye, apka radia mein naam hai, I don't sit in judgement of anybody. I will tell you the beauty of this; I look at it from the background I belong to. This might not sound like a very political interview, which you had Krishna Bhagwan telling Arjun in the Gita, that this is the architecture of life, this is how one responds to relationship, this is how truth wins over the untruth, but at the end of it Krishna says "Yatha Ichasi Tatha Kuru", do as you shall please. So if my God does not sit in judgement of others why should I sit in judgement myself? I can tell you what I can do, what did I do in the history of this country, never before the education policy derived by engaging directly by the people, with the people. We said, we have around over two and a half lakh village education councils, we have all the blocks, all the districts, all the states that need to deliberate upon education tell us what you want, give us that documentation. People said arrey koi nahi karta yahi pe, kaun karega? Today I am witness that over 93.853 villages have put up their resolutions for education on mygov.in. We have a drafting committee headed by gentlemen called TSR Subramanian, last I checked Mr Subramanian has nothing to do with the saffron agenda, which means as a government we have said that let policy have reflection on the will of the people of this country, but because for too long they have been told from the top up that this is what is good for you and that is not how I saw policy enfold in this country.
NDTV: But you know Smriti, as people in the public place, you much more than me, we are used to asking questions and we are used to answering questions. So the question I come back to is that do you accept that in the last year plus we have heard more from Dinanath Batra than we used to earlier and why is that?
Smriti Irani: My issue is this why you haven't gone to those 93000 or 96000 villages yourself? You haven't. They are speaking, you don't want to listen or you don't want to project it, so that is not their fault, they are speaking.
NDTV: Now how far do you push this principle, what you call autonomy, you said you cannot have a selective autonomy? Now you forwarded a letter from Mr Jain talking about how there should be vegetarian food in IIT canteens and you said I simply got the representation and forwarded it. Why was SSK Jain's letter, who has a RSS affiliation worth forwarding? Why was it worth forwarding?
Smriti Irani: I will give you another example, what is autonomy? Autonomy is that I have an IIM somewhere in Uttar Pradesh where a Professor was hauled up the Chairperson why because, I also did not know this, Mohan ji had gone to his house for lunch and that professor was asked, how dare you to feed lunch to Mohan Bhagwat? I am respective of that autonomy of that institution not to tell that Chairperson that it is none of your business that who comes to eat in whose house, your authority rests with only how a professor within a given institution and not what an ideology a professor might or might not have. There are many people who are working in IITs, IIMs today Central universities who were picked by my predecessors. You know surprisingly Pallam Raju's OSD today is a Joint Secretary in HRD; Suresh Pachauri's wife was one of the directors and I had a very good working relations with her for over one year. I am not in a position where I sit there and say just because you don't believe in my ideology or my polity you shall be persecuted.
NDTV: I am just trying to understand the logic behind forwarding a grievance on vegetarian food in the IIT's, can't the IIT's decide for themselves?
Smriti Irani: That is what the decision was, that this is not our subject. Whose subject is this? Kindly forward it to them. It's their decision, not ours. There is a difference between saying do this and saying this is a communication we have received, which is not within our jurisdiction; it is your jurisdiction, please decide as you deem fit. How is that trampling of free speech or association or for that matter any ideology? That is saying you have the academic, administrative autonomy to take your decision. Under the rule of law, especially when it comes to public grievances and offices I don't think many people understand, are duty bound to forward the information that they get so that it gets processed at the given institution. It is not our right to direct, we can only say we have got this, this is your baby please answer it.
NDTV: The question is why would you as a HRD minister.
Smriti Irani: So are you saying, that I need to sit and sort my mail out, oh acha this guy was voting for BJP so let me not forward this mail?
NDTV: But some mail may not be worth forwarding.
Smriti Irani: No, but please understand that is not for me to judge. Please understand, can you imagine a filter that I would start applying as per the perception ideologically on citizen rights to speak and demand answers? I did not even see the letter because it is not my job to sit there and filter letters on the basis of ideology.
NDTV: Okay, let me move on to the next question. The question is this, you have spoken about Dr Kakodkar, now for the first time in this interview, the IIM's, I have moved on to the next question, IIM's Directors.
Smriti Irani: 2 directors, Ahmedabad and Bangalore.
NDTV: Have been worried, two of our most premier institutions that their autonomy will be compromised if you bring in a new bill.
Smriti Irani: Do you know who they are?
NDTV: You tell me.
Smriti Irani: They are foreign citizens, both of them.
NDTV: They are not Indian citizens?
Smriti Irani: No, they are not. That's what I'm saying, the beauty of, in terms of tolerance, of this government is that even a foreign citizen can call our free press, wax eloquent about our government and our systems, tell us how our Parliament should legislate, and a celebrated journalist like Barkha Dutt gets to ask me that question.
NDTV: But, but, but....
Smriti Irani: No, there is no but.
NDTV: Why is there concern? Why is this new bill important, and how do you assure the IIM students, forget the Directors, how are you going to assure the IIM students that their independence and autonomy will not be compromised?
Smriti Irani: Please understand I am the chairperson of the IIT Council. In my one and a half years, what has happened in the IITs, there has been a launch of a programme called Imprint India. What is Imprint India? We have ten sectors in science and technology from the perception of research. I have personally, and government has also pushed to ensure that at the launch of this, it was launched by the Honourable Prime Minister, that let's sit down and hear more about those sectors where we need to develop new knowledge and manpower. We had an allocation of at least 750 crores in one go, which is the highest ever allocation for research. My question is did you do a story on it. Because your stories get more...
NDTV: The nature of news is that you chase the problem or the controversy.
Smriti Irani: Please understand, the nature of our politics is that irrespective of the barbs, the criticism, the bashing, we don't deter from our work.
NDTV: How do you assure people who are IIM alumni, or who are students in the IIMs that the government is not interested in interfering in the autonomy?
Smriti Irani: The government is not doing a legislative diktat or an executive order. The government, for the first time, has taken a legislative issue, put it on mygov.in so that people in this country can respond with their ideas about it. That is the expanse of our deliberation. Then the government is going to put it up to a Parliament, where people from various political ideologies have a say in what the final document or the final law will look like. And this law for the first time will facilitate those students who are studying in an IIM to get a degree.
NDTV: Are you reviewing some clauses? That's what was reported.
Smriti Irani: Where was Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, the Chairperson of IIM Bangalore? She expressed and she asked me, Smriti I don't understand Visitor, what is Visitor? And I told her, Kiran, a Visitor means the President of India. So, I didn't know that. So, we are engaging and discussing and deliberating, we are crossing a road, which is pretty busy.
NDTV: We are coming to a very interesting part of the neighborhood by the way, I should tell our viewers down this road is where Rahul Gandhi lives, and I love the ironies of this political neighborhood.
Smriti Irani: I don't think it's an irony. This is the healthy outcome of Indian politics, that you have your celebrated scion of an Indian political family, who lives across the lane, to a kid who came from nowhere, whose mother was a housekeeper for the Taj once upon a time, I think it's ironical that when you're doing a Women in the World interview, we were doing at the Taj Mansingh, and I was thinking...
NDTV: And your mom worked there?
Smriti Irani: My mom worked there, had to scrub bathrooms and floors and keep, you know, whatever housekeeping assignments were being given. And I remember the first house I ever got as an MP was right across the road, so I called my Mom and said, "Guess where I live?" She said, "Where?", I said, "Right opposite the Taj." And my mother, I remember the chef was very kind, he would say, " Arrey, yeh bacha hai," he would make a nice club sandwich, take it back to your kids and I'm sure they'll love it. I went to Taj and I ordered that sandwich instead of getting it as a dole from a kind chef, and I told my Mom, "I paid for it today, but I can't get myself to eat the damn thing." So, these are the stories, and the very fact that I stay opposite that institution where my Mom had worked, I get to live across the road from a gentleman that I'd contested against...
NDTV: You're not naming him.
Smriti Irani: His name is Rahul Gandhi; I don't know why you're so fascinated by him.
NDTV: No, no, I'm not fascinated with anybody, I'm a skeptic about everybody, I'll tell you that about myself, but, but...
Smriti Irani: I think that is the beauty of our country...
NDTV: Yes, sure.
Smriti Irani: But that beauty is not often celebrated.
NDTV: Since we are in the lane, as you said. Mr Gandhi lives across the road from you and we have just walked that stretch will....
Smriti Irani: And people behind and security are getting jittery I think...
NDTV: That's okay, we will see. You fought a very hard. tough fight in Amethi, you definitely made the Congress nervous. You had the PM backing you from the stage, he had called you 'choti behan' when Priyanka Gandhi raised the question of who is Smriti? He said I will tell you, she is my younger sister. Will we see you going back to Amethi in 2019?
Smriti Irani: Why would you wait till 2019? I am in Amethi every 2 months?
NDTV: No, I meant, to contest...
Smriti Irani: I think one needs to bifurcate and put in perspective two three issues. When you contest, you contest because your party so desires, not because you pick a particular seat. That is not how Karyakartas work. I don't know what assignment will my party give me in 2016, let alone 2019. I do not claim this false sense of victory that oh, the Congress is very nervous. I didn't go there to make anybody nervous or put down anybody individually. I think that fight was between two kinds of idea, which are there in our country. One whereas an individual born and a very, very celebrated family, possibly I never had anything that he would need which would not be served in a platter, and on the other hand was this girl, who genuinely didn't come from a very privilege background, but who had whole nation rooting for her. So for me that is what is memorable about Amethi.
NDTV: How do you see his outburst, just few days ago when he taunted the PM and said kha hai wo 56 Inch ki chaati, he said your 'chamchas', that's the word he used, you are using your chamchas to attack me and my family/ He was obviously talking about Dr Swamy and the charges that his company showed him British citizen on papers which the Congress said was a typo. But we have Rahul Gandhi saying, you are attacking me and my family. How do you see that?
Smriti Irani: I find it very interesting. I have a certain style of giving speeches in Amethi and if you pick up any tape of mine from Amethi, you will see me speaking in particular style if you may want to say that. It's interesting I found it that Mr Gandhi has resemblance to my kind of speaking.
NDTV: You are saying Rahul Gandhi was copying Smriti Irani.
Smriti Irani: Oh please, no.
NDTV: You are.
Smriti Irani: I am not taking it as compliment. I am cracking a joke like you did. On a serious note, I am of a opinion that this is a free country, he has the right to speak whatever he wants to speak about. Roll up his sleeves as much as he wants to. And I think that decisively that it is Lok Sabha election, which settled the leadership issue between him and Mr Modi. And in so far as Gandhi crying victim, I feel that just yesterday when he was in UP with a gentleman who threatened to cut Modi in pieces...
NDTV: Imran Masood.
Smriti Irani: Whoever, I wouldn't even want to repeat his name. I think that shows the true nature of his politics.
NDTV: But the Congress would turn around and say you have your Aditya Nath's, Kailash Vijay Wargiya who ask Shah Rukh Khan to go to Pakistan, so there are motor mouths in both the parties, hate mongers in both the parties.
Smriti Irani: I think what I celebrate about my country is that Yusuf Saab had to come and reinvent himself as Dilip Kumar to be a superstar, that was what he felt comfortable with. But Aamir or Shah Rukh or Salman, they are super stars and they have never hidden their religious identities. Like I said I, as a Hindu woman, bringing up two Zoroastrian children and I think that is the beauty of the diversity of faith and understanding in the country and I am of the opinion that till such time these issues are there in our society. I have spent 15 years in the BJP and nobody has asked me what kind of Irani I am, This is my first time I am talking about me being a practicing Hindu but in 15 years no one has asked me are you a Muslim Irani or a Zoroastrian Irani. Nobody could care less...
NDTV: So how do you see his outburst?
Smriti Irani: Whose outburst?
NDTV: Rahul Gandhi's.
Smriti Irani: I don't, genuinely I have a lot of work on my hands.
NDTV: We had a statement or a kind of an interview to PTI from his brother in law Robert Vadra, who described himself to be a political tool and he even said that you know if I wear kurta pyjama instead of the suits I wore, you know I am just not a hypocrite, then maybe I won't be attacked in this way, I am being used as a political tool.
Smriti Irani: Let me just use what Mr Vadra said to a cameraperson, I think from ANI. Are you serious?
NDTV: Well he expressed regret for that finally.
Smriti Irani: Like I said, speak what you want, do as you shall please, as long as you don't break the law. That's my understanding of the nature of things in my country.
NDTV: How do you see this government proceeding with the cases against Mr Vadra? We have had the Chief Minister of Haryana virtually declaring him guilty before the inquiry is...
Smriti Irani: I think the rule of law shall prevail and my party and my government has always said that the due process of law shall prevail.
NDTV: You have mentioned Aamir, Shah Rukh and Salman and you mentioned you. At the Ramnath Goenka awards you had Aamir joining the debate on intolerance and saying that he had been disturbed and felt a sense of alarm at everything he has seen in last 6 to 8 months. He even said, his wife Kiran Rao, had discussed whether for the sake of their child, they should move out of India. This is a pretty damning indictment coming right after Shah Rukh Khan said what he did, how do you see Aamir's comments?
NDTV: Smriti this is a pretty damning indictment coming right after Shah Rukh Khan said what he did, how do you see Aamir's comments?
Smriti Irani: I think that Aamir is the brand ambassador of tourism in our country and....
NDTV: Incredible India?
Smriti Irani: That's what is incredible, that he can be brand ambassador for our government, for one of our initiatives and the same time he can be on a platform in front of the I&B ministry of country and speak his mind. I won't get into what individually his family felt. It is his right to express that. So I feel that, like I said, we are tolerant enough for me to look away when a man objectifies me as not a Cabinet minister but as a woman. We are tolerant enough when I can booed for saying my experience as woman is that I have never been dictated to and I think we are tolerant enough like I said for us to encompass every voice that comes in this country. The very fact that people are speaking out is a very indication of a thriving free speech in our country.
NDTV: But when you come down to what Aamir actually said and you pointed to the kind of interesting contradiction that he is actually a brand ambassador for India, are you suggesting a kind of double speak there? Is that your charge?
Smriti Irani: I am not. Aamir having a political point of view is not new to what the Aamir Khan I see. He has spoken about being with Medha Patkar and being with other issues in the past and I think that my position, constitutional is such, Barkha, that I can't engage with asking people to explain their political inclination. That is not my job. It's when I step down from this position that I can speak as an individual, then I shall.
NDTV: You are saying his comments came from political inclination?
Smriti Irani: No. I have said that he has a political inclination, he has a political thought, it is his right to have that. I don't go out and ask him to explain what's his political inclination is.
NDTV: Do you agree with his comments? Do you feel as a very senior, high profile face of the government you need to pay attention to these voices?
Smriti Irani: The very fact that he was speaking before the Minister is a sign that free speech thrives in our country.
NDTV: This business of artists and authors returning awards....
Smriti Irani: Remember, I have been an artist.
NDTV: That's why I ask you this question. Many of these are people that you have known. You started with Ekta Kapoor, we remember you even now as Tulsi in a previous avatar. So you are from this fraternity before you were a politician. How do you see the anxiety in fraternity today?
Smriti Irani: I remember that there are people like Himanshu Dhuliya who says I don't want to return my award.
NDTV: Sure. There are many people like that. Anupam Kher says that.
Smriti Irani: I am of the opinion that, and again I reiterate I am in a Constitutional position, I don't have the right to air personal views.
NDTV: You never shied away from doing that.
Smriti Irani: No, But I am also educated irrespective of the 'anpadh background' enough to understand that I represent a government's voice and the government is extremely strong on one point that every citizen has a right to free speech. Every citizen has right to engage. There are some artists who met PM and said my doors are always open for anybody who wants to have a conversation.
NDTV: Including those who are returning awards?
Smriti Irani: Including everybody.
NDTV: You said everybody has the right to free speech, but we saw you in the last 24 hours getting very angry on twitter with a journalist who wrote a story, on her beat on your ministry, talking about an increase in the quotas of people being admitted to the Kendriya Vidyalayas. You reacted very angrily. She said I have respect for you. You did not give your response, why did you jump on her?
Smriti Irani: I think one needs to recognise that being a Minister at same time does not mean that you can cast aspersions at the efforts of my government or my Ministry for that matter. Did these admissions happen at the beginning of the academic year? These admissions were put before the Board, which has representations of the Army, Navy and the Air Force. Our intention was to insure that Members of Parliament who genuinely have large constituencies, irrespective of political background, wanted to help poor children and had absolutely no route to facilitate that. They put up their request in writing. We facilitated that. You are shooting me here with a cameraman; he mustn't be making as much money as you are. I had a boom mike guy who said I don't have money, but I need my kid to get an admission. That is not a flaw, but that is what the journalist did not put. The editorial view was as though there is something very fishy about the fact.
NDTV: But she said the Ministry was asked for its faulty view but did not respond.
Smriti Irani: Please understand that we have dealt with this particular journalist before, where we have repeated written records of communicating to their editor, that the journalist is deliberately trying to project a wrong story, we have written records for it.
NDTV: Isn't that personal?
Smriti Irani: It is not. It's a professional call. When you misreport and we know of it, it is responsibility to tell the editor. How is it possible?
NDTV: But there are those who may say Smriti, you are a Minister, you don't need be getting into quarrels with individual journalists on twitter, your Ministry can issue a statement, you can send a rebuttal.
Smriti Irani: Barkha, please understand, I have sent enough rebuttals. I'll show you a bunch of them. So, the controversy comes on the first page, the rebuttal comes on the twelfth, in this much of a box, and the question you pose to me today was about all those front page controversies, and not about the small boxes where our rebuttal was printed.
NDTV: My last question to you, it kind of flows from what we're speaking about, why is everyone talking of Smriti as being a ladaki, someone who gets into scraps and quarrels?
Smriti Irani: What would you rather have, a subservient me?
NDTV: That I can't imagine. But is there a middle ground?
Smriti Irani: That is a compromise I do not wish to reach. Being a Minister does not mean I'm subservient. Subjugated to somebody else's will. I'm a freethinking woman who's been given a responsibility and dare I say, with all sense of humility, I have done well in the past one and a half years.
NDTV: When you see these reports that Smriti's Joint Secretaries don't want to work with her, she's abrasive, she throws files; you've read the same stories that I have.
Smriti Irani: No, but where am I throwing, there's nothing there. But to how many people do I go and explain. So, I don't bother. So I don't bother. So there was somebody who said, "isne bola yeh mujhe khidki se baahar phek degi." And the irony of it is, mera kamre mein koi khidki hi nahin thi. But how many people do I go and tell, ke nahin, nahin yeh mere baare mein galat ha?
NDTV: Why do they call you abrasive?
Smriti Irani: Because I possibly speak my mind without seeking permission from anybody.
NDTV: Does that include speaking your mind inside your party? Have you sometimes had to pay the price for that inside the BJP?
Smriti Irani: I speak my mind everywhere, and my party has been respectful enough to hear my words.
NDTV: Including about the PM once in the past.
Smriti Irani: Yes, I'm a living example of my PM's ability to forgive, of his tolerance. I attacked him personally. And he was nice enough, he was much senior than me In terms of experience and administration. I was the new kid on the block. He walked up to me and he said, Smriti I hope one day you will realise in an administrative position, don't judge people on the basis of media reports. See the work and then form a judgement and come and tell me, yeh sahi hai, yeh galat hai. There have been many times when he said this; tell me openly, your experiences, what you feel in terms of administration. That's why I keep telling people, all those make this whole Modi halwa, I am a living example of his tolerance.
NDTV: In the end, any regrets? You said I've done quite well, how would you rate performance as a Minister?
Smriti Irani: No, I'm talking about as an individual, I have done well. It's not easy Barkha, I'm 39, and I've been at the top of my game in the media business. I have not done so badly in politics as well, that's unheard of, nobody else may want to look at it, but I understand it and I thank my God for giving me that opportunity.
NDTV: Are you picked on sometimes because you're a woman?
Smriti Irani: I don't like to play victim.
NDTV: Well, that's one thing you aren't. Smriti Irani, pleasure talking to you, I hope it won't be another year and a half before we speak.
Smriti Irani: Depends on the social media reaction.
NDTV: Now come on, for somebody who said I don't care about what people say should your decisions be guided by social media?
Smriti Irani: Please understand, these are the people; I have one kid called Shilpi Dewan online, seven months pregnant, genuinely a very tough pregnancy, left everything, came there and sat there to help in Amethi. When I call him Madcap Bagga, Tejender Bagga, who everybody in the Leftwing seems to hate, Bagga never asked me for anything, quietly came and put up posters supporting me, all the rickshaws of Amethi, I owe them, Barkha.
NDTV: But do you defend the kind of toxicity that you see on twitter?
Smriti Irani: I owe them. Am I not at the receiving end of toxicity?
NDTV: We all are in different ways, right?
Smriti Irani: Then, I don't cry victim then.
NDTV: Nobody does. Pleasure again, and we've reached, we're right outside Rahul Gandhi's house! We've walked all the way there, Smriti, you want to holler, or drop in for a cup of chai or something.
Smriti Irani: I don't transgress boundaries. As a Constitutional, in my Constitutional position, I will not invade privacy and walk into any individual's house; I'll not be that abrasive.
NDTV: Thank you for talking.
Smriti Irani: But my house is always open for tea.
NDTV: Good, that is a good note to have a cup of tea.