NEW DELHI -- Is India's minister for education somewhat confused over the difference between a college degree and a certificate?
At a conference on Saturday, Smriti Irani, the minister for human resource development, told a journalist that she had a degree from Yale. Her claim caused a nationwide facepalm moment.
The journalist at the India Today Women Summit asked Irani to clear the air over whether she had an undergraduate degree or not and referred to the discrepancy between the information she filed during the election in 2004 and 2014 when she was a candidate.
“I do have a degree from Yale as well, which I can bring out and show how Yale celebrated my leadership capacity,” Irani said.
When the journalist persisted, Irani added that she “should best be judged on what I deliver as a minister.”
But the damage was done.
Opposition Congress party spokeswoman Priyanka Chaturvedi tweeted a story saying the degree that Irani boasted of was actually a certificate given to her for attending a six-day leadership program in 2013 at Yale University for a group of 11 Indian lawmakers.
Irani’s claim triggered a merciless lampooning campaign on social media and a volley of jokes about college degrees. #Yale trended on Twitter in India for the second day Monday.
HRD minister should abolish all multiple year programs and introduce 5 days ones in all colleges. India can have degrees for everyone. Win.— Puram (@puram_politics) August 10, 2014
Searched #Yale at Google. First result Irani's picture. I so want to kill my career councillor.— maheep singh (@Genuine_Jokey) August 11, 2014
'Modi Cabinet hit by a Yale storm'— Pawan Khera (@Pawankhera) August 11, 2014
The Twitter storm grew so big that even God could not resist.
Congratulations to Smriti Irani on graduating from Yale in the exact same amount of time it took Me to create the world.— God (@TheTweetOfGod) August 11, 2014
Irani, who rose to fame for her role in a Hindi television soap series before joining politics, gave a weak defense on Monday.
Unfortunate that statement re my participation in a leadership program & certificate thereafter was misconstrued.— Smriti Z Irani (@smritiirani) August 11, 2014
When the new Prime Minister Narendra Modi appointed the 38-year old Irani as the human resource minister in May this year, her opponents in the defeated Congress party questioned how someone who had never been to college could be a minister overseeing education policies.
But Irani is not the first Indian politician to have fudged information on education. The president of Congress party, the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, had falsely claimed that she had a diploma from Cambridge University. When she faced criticism, it was corrected.