It’s perhaps not something that Smriti Irani expected when she was working as a television artist, but the Union Human Resource Development minister has overtaken top Bollywood heroines as far as online search interest is concerned, a day after her emotional speech in Parliament.
On Thursday, a day after she answered her detractors and critics in dramatic style in the Lok Sabha, the total number of searches on her name jumped a hundred fold, according to data from Google.
On Feb 25, thrice the number of people were searching for information about Smriti Irani as on Katrina Kaif, who has been the most-searched celebrity in India for many years in a row. This is a reversal from regular days, when 20 times more people search on Katrina Kaif’s name compared to Irani’s.
The second most searched Bollywood heroine, Deepika Padukone, was also far behind, with only one-eighth the search interest as the HRD minister.
In fact, the minister has at least temporarily overtaken her mentor — Narendra Modi, generating twenty times more search volume compared to the prime minister. On a per day basis, the number of searches on the minister equaled the peak daily volume of searches on Modi at the time of last year’s general election.
Google provides data on a percentage basis about relative popularity of search terms. In countries like the US, the information is used to gauge the impact of marketing campaigns and even the prospects of election candidates.
It should, however, be noted that such sudden spikes often subside very soon.
n case of Irani, the searches happened a day after the speech, indicating that people’s curiosity was piqued by social media discussions and newspaper headlines on the following day.
Irani, who has been subject to much criticism by many who see her as less-than-qualified to lead the HRD ministry, chose a Lok Sabha debate on Wednesday to answer her critics for all their taunts over the past few months.
In a speech that oscillated between the aggressive to the emotional, Irani sought to demolish the opposition parties’ allegations that her ministry’s actions led to the death of a young Dalit student Rohit Vemula.
Vemula, a student of Hyderabad University, hung himself after repeated confrontations with the ‘system’.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, which rules the center, has taken much flak for the event, with opposition MPs waving several letters written by the Union HRD minister to the Hyderabad University’s Vice Chancellor seeking an explanation on reported ‘anti-national activities’ at the institution.
The letters were shot off after BJP leader Bandaru Dattatreya complained to Irani’s office that Ambedkar Students’ Union — most of whose members were Dalit — was promoting casteism and anti-national activities in the campus.
Dattatreya also mentioned altercation between a group of students including Vemula and the local leader of BJP’s student wing, which, he said, resulted in the latter being admitted to the hospital.
After a series of follow-up letters from the Union minister’s office, the Hyderabad University administration suspended Vemula and four other Ambedkar Students Union members from their hostel in late December and banned them from participating in students union elections. Days later, the PhD student committed suicide, blaming a system ‘that cannot be fixed.’
In her reply in the Lok Sabha, Irani said a woman is life-giver, not a life taker, and said her ministry had sought nothing more than an explanation from the Hyderabad University.