Controversy over degree lingers on - GulfToday

Controversy over degree lingers on

BRP Bhaskar


Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.


Narendra Modi

A controversy over Narendra Modi’s academic qualifications has pursued him from his early days as the Prime Minister. In a judgment delivered last week, the Gujarat High Court quashed the Central Information Commission’s directive to the Gujarat University to make available copies of relevant documents to those who had sought them.

The court assessed that Aam Aadmi Party leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who was one of the petitioners, had not acted in a bona fide manner in seeking information about Modi’s degrees.

A Supreme Court judgment, which has the effect of a law, requires all persons seeking election to Parliament or Legislative Assemblies to file, along with their nomination papers, affidavits about their educational status as well as criminal cases pending against them, if any.

No educational qualifications have been prescribed for MPs and MLAs. Also, pending cases do not disqualify candidates from becoming elected representatives. But the apex court wanted the voters to have such information before them.

In the affidavit which he filed while contesting for the Lok Sabha, Modi had said he graduated from Delhi University and obtained a post-graduate degree from Gujarat University. Some activists, who had doubts about the claim, sought information about his degrees from the universities. The universities refused to give the information. They then petitioned the Central Information Commission, under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, for a directive to the universities to furnish the information.

Two members of Modi’s Cabinet, Home Minister Amit Shah and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, while addressing a press conference at the Bharatiya Janata Party headquarters, showed newsmen Modi’s BA and MA certificates.

The next day Delhi University Registrar Tarun Das said the Delhi University certificate they displayed was authentic.

But the BJP leaders’ effort, instead of setting doubts at rest, gave rise to new issues. While Modi was said to have graduated in 1978, the certificate the ministers showed mentioned the year of graduation as 1979. The Registrar dismissed it as a minor error.

The document shown by BJP leaders reportedly mentioned the subject in which Modi got the post-graduate degree as “Entire Political Science”. Responding to critics who said there was no such subject, Amit Shah explained in a tweet that it meant he had taken examinations in eight papers on the subject.

The Gujarat High Court judgment did not go into the alleged discrepancies in the documents produced by the BJP leaders. It said Arvind Kejriwal had made a mockery of the RTI Act by seeking information which the Gujarat University has already put on its website. Observing that there was no public interest in seeking disclosure of information which was available online, it asked Kejriwal to pay Rs.25,000 towards costs.

Justice Biren Vaishnav, who heard the matter, held forth on the irrelevance of the issue of the Prime Minister’s educational qualifications. He pointed out that there was no mandatory educational qualification for a leader seeking an elective post. It was the ‘character’ of a leader and his concern for the people that mattered more than his educational qualification.

While Justice Vaishnav was quite right in putting the issue of educational status of elected representatives in the right perspective, he missed the central point of the controversy.

The real issue is not whether Modi has a bachelor’s degrree from Delhi University and a Master’s degree from Gujarat University. Even if he does not have these degrees, as leader of a party which commands majority in the Lok Sabha, he is entitled to be the Prime Minister. But if it turns out that he does not possess either of these degrees, there is a qualitative change in the situation. He then becomes liable for action under the law for filing a false affidavit.

According to a marklist which has been on display at the Gujarat University website, Modi, appearing as an external candidate, passed the MA degree examination in 1983 with a First Class, scoring 62.3 per cent marks. Ordinarily this should have set the controversy at rest. It didn’t, primarily because of lack of credibility of institutions like universities as a result of widespread political interference in their affairs.

The High Court judgment is unlikely to make a difference to the situation. The issue is now political. Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party has said it would raise the issue of Modi’s degrees in the upcoming elections.

There is no quick-fix solution to the credibility problem. It calls for principled action by all parties that wield power at various levels.

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