NEW DELHI: December 25,2004: BJP’s Smriti Irani begins a fast-unto-death in Surat for the immediate resignation of then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. “Whenever people mention Gujarat they only talk about the riots and try to corner the Gujaratis on the issue. So, in order to maintain the respect that I have for Atalji and the BJP, I won’t hesitate to take this step,” Irani said. She announced the decision to go on fast a few days before, maintaining that she had chosen December 25 as it was then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s birthday.

Later when she turned d into an ardent supporter of PM Modi she justified this fast----that by the way did not even last a day as Vajpayee intervened and asked her to call it off----Irani said, “I was the victim of propaganda. I visited Gujarat and saw the reality. I was trapped in the plethora of lies. When I met Narendra Modi, he told me to examine him from the prism of truth. The truth was shocking. It was contrary to the propaganda spread in the mainstream media.”

Before the debate on the JNU, Rohith Vemula issue in Parliament Bahujana Samaj party leader Mayawati wanted to know from Minister Irani whether a Dalit had been included as a member in the central government’s probe commission into the suicide of Dalit scholar Vemula. She failed to get an answer but got an assurance from Irani that if her response to the debate failed to satisfy Mayawati she would have her head cut off and placed at the BSP leaders feet. After the debate, Mayawati said she was far from satisfied and reminded Irani about her promise. To which the Minister responded with a grimace, “well you can get your BSP leaders to cut off my head.”

Irani, who relies more on theatre than facts, seems to have now run into trouble with the Opposition determined to move a privilege motion against her on Monday, the day the budget is to be presented. Far from dying down, the debate on the crackdown and arrests of students in JNU and Vemula’s suicide has turned into a straight confrontation with the Congress party even holding a press conference accusing the HRD Minister of “waging a war against Dalits”.

The Minister has been challenged not just by the law makers, but also by the Joint Action Committee in the Vemula case, who held a press conference and issued a detailed statement challenging her claims in Parliament. Vemula’s mother has been part of the demonstration by the students in Delhi, the candlight vigil where she was protected from a police crackdown by students at the spot, and again at the press conference where she issued the statement challenging Irani to prove her claims. (this has been reported extensively in The CItizen over the past few days).

Irani shot into fame from a fairly obscure background with the Tv serial Kyonki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. After having set her information about Gujarat right as she says, she remained a Modi supporter and while she was set to be a Cabinet Minister when he won the elections with a sound majority, eyebrows were raised when she was given the HRD portfolio both within and outside the party. A major controversy about her educational qualifications were raised, something that still rankles as in her response in Parliament in the recent debate Irani referred to her alleged lack of education. She was accused of filing false affidavits about her educational qualifications.

Irani has been a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh from childhood. Her family is from the RSS.She joined the BJP in 2003 and contested the elections against Congress party’s Kapil Sibal from the Chandni chowk parliamentary seat in Delhi. She lost and was said at the time to have blamed Modi and the 2002 Gujarat violence for her defeat. She subsequently mended her relations with him, and in 2011 came into the Rajya Sabha as a member from Gujarat.

Since then the Minister has been at the forefront of a campaign in Universities, that has pitted the government now against the students per se. The banning of the Periyar Study Circle in IIT-Madras, the circumstances that led to the death of Rohith Vemula in HCU, and the crackdown on JNU that has made it to the world headlines are being spearheaded by her and her Ministry.