The government, through its favourite henchmen in the Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry, is once again doing what it does best: attempting to stifle the independence of institutions by seeking to control them. And the most unfortunate business of this Orwellian bid to play puppetmaster is that it has now chosen some of India’s finest institutions, the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs). The HRD Ministry has called for applications for the posts of directors of three IIMs, in Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Kolkata. This is to fill the posts of the three directors whose terms are nearly over, a process that throughout the history of the IIMs was undertaken by the institutes themselves. Now, applicants will have to be vetted by Shastri Bhawan.
So what has prompted this move from the ma-baaps of government? For someone not familiar with the context, the IIMs seem to be the last place where governmental fixing is required. The clue to the HRD Ministry’s itch to control the institutions through handpicked directors lies in the present government’s understanding of the term ‘human resources’. As with most governments before, this one too is obsessed with the idea of social engineering through reserving seats in higher educational institutions and elsewhere. The jury may still be very much out on the pros and cons of quotas, but the HRD Ministry has no time or patience for all this. It is convinced that implementing reservations is the way forward and anyone with a differing view and worried about the dilution of quality at such specialised institutes, can take a hike. With the agenda of ‘convincing’ IIMs that bad policies are good, HRD Minister Arjun Singh and his faithful find it easier just to have their own men in the big chairs.
At a time when a debate over the need for private universities to fill the growing knowledge gap in this country is gathering steam, the IIM fiasco gives us a peek into the soul of the government. What we see is a desire to play super-dog in the manger — not allowing any institution to continue doing a good job on its own, while not being interested in doing a good job itself. This government’s obsession with playing politics through ‘social engineering’ seems ready to claim another victim. Who’s next in line?