Noted academician Madhu Purnima Kishwar of the Centre for Study of Developing Societies and founder of Manushi, a women's rights journal, has been in the news a lot. First, for her chronicles on Modi, called Modinama, in which she critiqued the media and human rights activists for "falsely demonising" Modi after the Gujarat riots of 2002. Then for her criticism of Smriti Irani’s "incompetence" as human resource development minister and "fraudulent qualifications". In a freewheeling interview with Vrinda Gopinath, Kishwar talks about the disappointment and general despondency six months into Modi’s reign.

Has your enthusiasm for Modi waned vis-a-vis his appointment of Smriti Irani as human resource development minister?
The enthusiasm for Modi as prime minister came because of the good work he had done in Gujarat, which I saw firsthand. Coming to the field of education, I saw a man who recognises the importance of investing heavily in knowledge, skill development and learning, and who believes that India should occupy its rightful place in the 21st century. He repeatedly said this, that too with passion. Since I am engaged in the education sector, I feel passionately about it too. I have given my life to academics, I have taught in Delhi University. I have seen the breakdown of this great university, where classes are not held, the quality of education is abysmal, and which produces unemployable lumpens by the millions. We are wasting generation after generation to bad education.

Therefore, Modi’s appointment of Irani came as a horrible shock to me. Here is someone who is not just poorly educated and mal-educated – she is just Class 12th pass – but she even lied in her affidavit about her qualifications. Nor does she have the learning of a lived experience. Look at the trajectory of this woman – at 18, she leaves home for the glamour industry, to become a fashion model, a beauty queen, then gets into saas-bahu serials, which, even by the standards of the entertainment industry, is the lowest genre. It is brainless. She could not even qualify to head the National School of Drama.

If Modi is talking about getting India to make up for its lost centuries in education, you need a person with vision, experience of knowledge disciplines, of which she has none. She proved it when she said I have a Yale degree, from a five-day course. She actually thought it was a badge of honour, even I could not believe she was that dumb.

So, do you think the Modi government is serious about education? Where does this leave Modi?
It is a trauma I have not yet recovered from. I would not have been surprised if a Laloo Yadav had appointed Smriti Irani. After all, didn’t we take a Rabri Devi in our stride? But you do not expect a Rabri Devi from Narendra Modi.

Did you speak to Modi about this? Did he respond to your tweets of anguish?
You do not expect Modi to respond to this, he is not that kind of person. No, I did not get in touch with him. I expressed my anguish through social media. The reason I did not go to him was what if he had said, Madhuji, chodo na? It would have been very difficult to say no, and I did not want to drop this matter.

You still have not spoken about your disappointment with the Modi government.
Look, I still stand by my commendation of the Gujarat government. It was the absolute truth. He got rewarded for his work in Gujarat, he is now the prime minister. But now starts a new chapter, he is going to be assessed afresh. However, nobody can make sense of all this, neither me nor anyone else. It is black magic that somebody has done. I cannot believe this is happening. Maybe Modi has not got a grip yet. Maybe Delhi has disoriented him. But it is too premature to pass a verdict. I am still waiting. I am maintaining my distance.

Perhaps Modi is not what he is cracked up to be?
I have based my assessment of Modi from the ground – people may have voted for him from what they have heard, but not me. This is completely out of character, it is inexplicable. It is not in tune with his track record in Gujarat.

Is he playing the Delhi game of keeping everyone happy?
This is important because it is made out to look as if Modi owes Smriti something, but I can demolish it systematically – she has no political base, there is not a single constituency where she can win a single election, even though she was vice-president of the BJP. She is not even a Varun Gandhi, who not only wins his election but helps MLAs win in his constituency. She did not build on the organisation, she is not an Amit Shah. She just gives speeches that are fed to her. Two, they say she has to be rewarded for fighting Rahul. Then, how come nobody talks about rewarding Ajay Agarwal, the BJP candidate who fought Sonia Gandhi and garnered almost two lakh votes despite all the odds? Smriti had huge resources at her disposal – money, national media, BJP leadership, even Modi campaigning for her. Smriti’s clout comes because she latches on to a biggie – first it was Pramod Mahajan, then Gopinath Munde, Nitin Gadkari, now Modi.

Where else has the Modi government let you down?
The black money case is another blow, where Arun Jaitley has deceived the public by pretending he is doing something, like releasing three names out of 700, etc. Then the government has done nothing on the NDTV case, it has not even reinstated the revenue officer who exposed the case. It reflects very badly on Modi. And how I really want this government to succeed.

There are rumours that Smriti Irani may be appointed as Delhi chief minister if BJP comes to power?
Anything to rid her from the HRD ministry. Make her the deputy prime minister but get her out of education. Of course I would not trust her with any ministry, I do not think Delhi chief minister is such a lightweight job. It is a difficult state to run. All this tells me that nepotism of a very venal variety is at play. For, even if you have favourites, you must have very talented favourites. That is what we expect of Modi, to nurture talent. Be smart. Modi should not be doing things that even shock his party.

Where do you stand vis-a-vis Modi today?
I would say I am where Arun Shourie is today, his criticisms are valid. But unlike Shourie, I am not in the party, nor am I in the game. I have kept my distance, I have never cultivated any BJP people or even entered its office. I do not want any favours or posts, as most people cheaply accused me of, but I will take the pangas, the big risks. I want to be in the space of a creative, constructive opposition, to issue the warning signals.