The controversy over Human Resources and Development Minister Smriti Irani's educational qualifications has taken a new turn with her assertion that she also has a degree from the prestigious Yale University in the United States.
Irani, 38, made the remark when pressed by a questioner at the India Today Woman Summit 2014 in New Delhi to clear the "mystery" over her educational degrees.
Soon after the Lok Sabha results were announced on May 16, Irani was at the centre of a raging controversy over her educational qualifications after it emerged that she had made contradictory declarations when she contested the parliamentary elections in 2004 and 2014.
"In that kitty of mine where people call me 'anpad' (illiterate) I do have a degree from Yale University as well which I can bring out and show how Yale celebrated by leadership capacities.
"Extraneous circumstances are being created so that I deviate my concentration from what my goals are," she said at the event on Saturday. The BJP leader said she should be judged from what she delivers as a minister.
Irani did not explain what the Yale degree was but she was part of a group of Indian MPs which underwent a crash course at the Yale University, during which the elections in India, the prospects for Afghanistan and Pakistan after the US military withdrawal in 2014, the implications of political and economic transitions in China dominated.
The 11 Indian MPs came to the Yale University campus in New Haven, Connecticut on June 19 last year to complete a six-day leadership program with Yale faculty.
The 2013 participants were drawn from five different national and regional political parties in India, and included Irani, who was BJP vice president at that time, and her Telugu Desam Party counterpart C Ramesh.
In addition to BJP and TDP, there were also representatives from the Congress, Trinamool Congress and Shiv Sena.
In the academic program, the delegation participated in discussions with Yale faculty on nuclear non-proliferation; the democracy movement in the Arab world; women's empowerment; elections theory and practices; political and economic developments in China; campaign finance reform; the environmental impact of shale gas development; Afghanistan and Pakistan after 2014; pharmaceutical innovation and patent law; and climate change mitigation.
The 2013 program was held in a new partnership with the Governance and Public Policy Initiative of the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi. In all, more than 80 MPs from India have participated since the program was created eight years ago.
When pressed further at the 'India Today' event to clear the air over her educational qualifications, Irani told the questioner to file a public interest litigation if he wanted to know the truth about the poll affidavit controversy.
"Please go and file a PIL against me in court, I shall give you your answer in court to settle this once and for all," she said when asked which of the two poll affidavits she had filed in 2004 and 2014 was real.
As a candidate in 2004 elections from Chandni Chowk in Delhi, Irani had declared that she had a Bachelor of Arts degree.
"B.A. 1996 Delhi University (School of Correspondence)", she had written in the column which seeks details of University education and the year in which the course was completed.
In the same column of the affidavit filed in the 2014 elections from Amethi, Irani had said, "Bachelor of Commerce Part-1, School of Open Learning (Correspondence), University of Delhi-1994".
Reacting to Irani's Yale link, Congress asked why did she not mention this in her poll affidavit.
"And our HRD minister forgot to mention her Yale degree in her affidavit this time. But all her affidavits have had different degrees, sigh," Priyanka Chaturvedi, a Congress spokesperson, sarcastically tweeted.
"I repeat again. It's NOT about the need of educational qualifications for a minister. It's about her honesty, integrity and truthfulness," she added.
Image: Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani