It took Prime Minister Narendra Modi almost half his term to see the damage that Smriti Irani was doing to his government, herself, and above all everyone who has anything to do with education, when she was the Human Resources Development minister. The least was the fact that she could not defend herself when her qualifications came to be questioned. Without a doubt, she would do many highly educated women proud, even without all the trappings of formal higher education. But her conduct in the ministry where many knocking at its doors are masters in their field, left much to be desired.
In the first few weeks of her being the minister for textiles, Smriti Irani has, well almost, been respun. Like the tautness of the yarn is removed to bring out the gentleness of India's handloom fabric, she appears to have softened as she deals with a different class of people—the earthy, grounded weavers whose skill, like her own, has not been acquired in any haloed university, but is intrinsic to them. Some of them whom she has visited have been happy with the interaction, her interest in them and their work. But of course, five weeks is too soon to affirm that the change is for real.
As textiles minister, Smriti Irani heads a sector that probably gives more skill based self-employment opportunities than any other.
Mahatma Gandhi made the charkha—spinning wheel used in making the khadi yarn—a symbol of the freedom movement because of the way it touches lives of the masses. It goes to the credit of Congress leaders like Indira Gandhi and Pupul Jayakar who groomed people like Rajiv Sethi and worked not only for the revival of Indian textiles and crafts, but also took them the world over. 'Foreign bahu' Sonia Gandhi's collection of handloom sarees is almost every Indian woman's envy. But Irani has been lucky to be part of a government that has a notified Handloom Day. August 7 was chosen because it is on this day in 1905 that the Swadeshi movement was formally launched before a large gathering in the Kolkatta Town Hall. The idea was to revive domestic products and production techniques, skills and processes.
Irani's ministry launched the #IwearHandloom campaign on social media, with a flag of India showing the textiles of different states. Hers has not been a tasteful parading of handloom sarees in the years she has been in the BJP, but she did wear one , took a picture and tweeted it tagging five biggies. They took it forward, and so anyone who is someone has tweeted his or her photo wearing handloom. Many have gone beyond the campaign #IWearHandloom, saying they are proud of India's handloom traditions.
Modi did his bit, not only by wearing what he does, but also talking about cotton growers. Farm to fabric to fashion to foreign, he told them.