Monday, May 9, 2016

Mani Shankar Aiyar - Modi's College Degrees Aren't Important. But Why Should A PM Lie?

I sat in on an interview that Rajiv Gandhi gave to Dhiren Bhagat, who asked what kind of degree Rajiv had obtained at Cambridge. "Ploughed," came the laconic reply. Bhagat looked startled. "Pardon," he said. "Failed," clarified the Prime Minister. It is not necessary to be a graduate to qualify as PM. What is more important is to be truthful about it. Frank and upfront.

Indira Gandhi too had graduated from Santiniketan but dropped out of Oxford. Jawaharlal Nehru had managed no more than a poor second. The "Shastri" after Lal Bahadur was his degree, not his surname. PV Narasimha Rao was much more qualified, but as Vir Sanghvi remarked, "He could speak eighteen languages - but couldn't make up his mind in any one of them!" The less said of the educational qualifications of Deve Gowda and Chandra Shekhar the better. Of Morarji Desai, more is known of his therapies than his degrees. Inder Gujral was known in Lahore as a bright student. Dr. Manmohan Singh alone of our many PMs can lay any claim to high academic credentials. The point is that a PM is not an IAS officer. He does not have to pass exams to qualify.

Look beyond our shores and the same applies. Sheikh Hasina is not highly educated. Aung San Suu Kyi is. Ranil Wikramasinghe has good degrees. Nawaz Sharif has none. Neither Winston Churchill nor de Gaulle went to University. Nor did Ho Chi Minh or Mao. George W. Bush was an academic disaster. David Cameron is best remembered at Oxford for what he did into dead pigs' mouths. Kennedy and Clinton had sound academic backgrounds. Not so Nixon or Reagan. Of Donald Trump, the issue is best passed over in silence.

One could go on. The point is there is no linear relationship between how well a Prime Minister performed at studies and how well he performs as Head of Government or Head of State. Narendra Damodardas Modi would do well to remember that as he is asked a simple question: whether and when and in which subjects did you get your degrees? Or did you not go to University at all? That is, did you eschew university as irrelevant to your ambitions to become the Big Boss? …

Either the academic details would suffice or a straight, "I did not go to University" would be enough. Instead, he stalls, he shuffles, he equivocates, he shuts up, he shouts out loud - or he marshals his propagandists to tell TV audiences that he is the popularly elected leader of the nation. But no one asked that question. No one asked whether he was legitimately elected. The outstanding question is when did he write his papers, from where and what degree did he get? Why not answer instead of wriggling?

Well, some kind of evidence has been adduced. There is a document showing him as having graduated Third Class from Delhi University in 1978. And there is a second document showing him as having acquired a First Class MA from the University of Gujarat in 1983. That should have been the end of the story - but isn't.

For while Delhi University records clearly show that one Narendra Mahaveer Modi did indeed pass out of Shri Ram College in 1978, the same records do not include any Narendra Damodardas Modi as having graduated that year. The other Modi is, of course, dead proud of his parents for having given him such a famous name and beams into the TV cameras as he recounts it. So would I have been proud had Ravi Shankar Prasad been Mani Shankar Prasad. But that would still have not made me the "call-drop" Minister. Why should the PMO be complaining about the Chief Information Officer entertaining an RTI application, claiming the application was not in order, instead of just going down the relevant DU register? Unless, of course, there is no Narendra Damodardas Modi on the register at all. …

not even Ahmedabad's Gujarat University - would allow a student to enter an MA class without first having shown that he had a valid BA. Moreover, there needs to be some credibility, some authenticity to show that the present Vice Chancellor of Gujarat University is, indeed, right in producing a copy of Modi's MA degree from that University in 1983, and announcing the marks that Modi obtained in the four papers for which he is said to have appeared in his MA Part - 2 exams, namely: Political Science - 64; European and Social Political Thought - 62; Modern India/Political analysis - 69; and Political Psychology - 67. Very impressive. Taken together - a clear first class.

But along comes Prof. Jayati Patel who says he was on the faculty of the Department of Political Science at Gujarat University for 24 long years - from 1969 to 1993. Within that window of nearly a quarter century fall the crucial years that Modi was doing his MA, Parts - 1 and - 2. It seems from Prof. Jayati Patel's post on his Facebook Wall that he was one of Modi's teachers. But although Modi was a student in the "regular" category, his attendance was so irregular that "his presence was not sufficient in my class to grant his term and I have never condoned it."

In our school slang, we would have called Modi a "jammer" - one who cuts classes. But perhaps he was merely at home diligently studying, not hanging out at street-corners. For after all, Modi went on, says the present Vice-Chancellor, from being a "jammer" to getting a distinguished first, indeed scoring a first in all his four papers. Alas for Modi and the Vice-Chancellor, Prof Jayati Patel, 24 years on the faculty of the Department of Political Science, sticks it into both the PM and the VC saying "there seems something wrong with the names of the papers, to my knowledge, there were no such papers offered in Part-2 to internal or external students"!

Thus it would seem prima facie that Modi obtained an MA first that did not exist on writing exam papers that did not exist - whether in 1983 or 2016 only an investigation will establish.

I repeat that a Prime Minister does not need to be a graduate. But if an affidavit has been wrongly sworn, that could land the man is serious trouble. Hence the anxiety with which PMO is handling a simple question to which any of us could give an immediate reply - did we or did we not go to university? And, if we did, did we pass out or did we "plough"?