Last year, as a panel member for HSBC's annual scholarships, I (with my co-panelists) was struck by the brilliance of a young boy from a village near Delhi. A farmer's son, he had pulled through his academic career almost entirely through scholarships. And here he was applying for the big one, perhaps the biggest.

There was no debating his sheer grit and raw intelligence. And yet, the boy had had an advantage. He had, somewhere in his first few years of school, applied and enrolled for the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyala. These are not schools some of us living in cities are likely to see while driving into work. For the simple reason, they are not to be found here.

The residential Navodayas are another model of excellence, like the IITs and IIMs. They aim to create a class of bright, young students, mostly from rural and small town India. They give the opportunities that the current schooling system does not. And allows some of them to compete on equal footing from the (snobs !) from St Stephens in Delhi and St Xaviers in Bombay. Notably for scholarships like this one.

Rajiv Gandhi's Idea

The Navodayas were a brainchild of Rajiv Gandhi. I will admit I didn't know about their existence till that day. And two members of the panel, Business Standard editor T N Ninan and author/writer Ramachandra Guha subsequently entered into a lively but furious debate about Rajiv Gandhi's contribution to India. Two sparkling lines I recall from that exchange were, "The problem with you economists is that you forget history." And the retort, "And the problem with the historians is that they don't understand economics."

Lets accept that this model of excellence works, whether for Navodayas or IITs/IIMs. And the fact is that it has stood the test of time and delivered. Actually, much more than it was perhaps ever envisaged. But that's the true test of any great model, in business or otherwise. Im pretty sure the Navodayas will deliver too, to greater heights. They already are. But possibly they escape the attention of people like me.

And yet, we are intent on destroying this model. By adding even more reservation to our premier institutions of excellence. Its plain shocking to see the government pushing through reservation in the IITs and IIMs. The recent constitutional amendment allows the government to add another 27.5% for OBCs for a host of other institutions as well. These include AIIMs to FTII and NIFT, as I learn from the Indian Express this morning.
That takes total reservation to 49.5%. Wow !

More Seats Not A Solution

HRD minister Arjun Singh's (the architect of this plan) response to the protests is that the institutes should increase the number of seats to allow for the reservations. Theoritically okay but practically disasterous. An increase in seats should be driven by the economic models of demand and supply. And capabilities. Not by fiat. As is the case here.

But a HRD minister running educational institutions cannot think like a Railway Minister. Announce more trains whenever a constituency grumbles. When he should be thinking of a brand new railway system. What's worse is that in doing all this, the Congress government seems to strike at the very Nehruvian model of excellence that has brought so much of equity to India. And to themselves. At least in the past.

I compared (in my previous post) the Indian School of Business with the Indian Institute of Managements. That comparison reflected some familiarity and bias in favour of the number two. As opposed to the entrenched number one. It also assumed that the IIMs are more or less on an equal footing when it comes to developing world class teaching systems, getting the best professors and creating the best learning environments. And finally, taking in the students they WANT to take in.

How An Institution Goes To Seed

Arjun Singh wants to change the rules of the game. Halfway. I cannot now make a fair comparison between an IIM and an ISB or a AIIMS and lets say, the Manipal Institutes. Because the model of excellence that these fine institutions represented is being taken apart. In addition to diluting their present and past equity. I should know. I belong to a south Bombay college which once boasted the best and finest this country has produced.

I would once count the number of alumni from my college whose statues adorn various streets and corners of south Bombay. Incidentally, that includes a gentleman by the name of BR Ambedkar ! Whose statues of course are to be found all over the country. Anyway, all this is truly history now. And one key reason I would think is that Elphinstone College one day was taken over by the state government. Nothing wrong in that per se. Except that there was no model of excellence applied. And all attempts at meritocracy went downhill.

Which is why I think Arjun Singh's move must be opposed strongly. With all the vehemance at the command of every existing and past student of these institutions. The quiet manner in which its been pushed through is menacing, to say the least. And the fact that all political parties support it, is sad.

Protest And Offer Solutions

There is a larger problem here. Of our inability to understand what is going or has gone wrong with our education system. Of how there is a very large India out there that is reaching out to the politicians to do something for them. Possibly because they are alienated from the great IT/BPO story that we write about everyday. Or the live images of Lakme Fashion Week on all-time television.

But that's no excuse for the politicians to respond with such terribly unimaginative moves. The politicians seem to have guaged an undercurrent of discontent in the polity. As they often do. Their solutions to address this discontent are retrogade. While we oppose the moves, we must offer solutions as well. Even as we acknowledge that India is not about what you and I see everyday, with the booming stock markets and glitzy malls. That's how Nehru would have thought.


Unknown said…
Till this week, I was wondering, How IIMs and IITs reach to this stage? Answer is only LUCK. It was their luck that politicians did not intervene much. So they nurtured. But now, politicians are here.

Hey, if IIM has good lecturers which made this students so great, they will have to take care of this matter now.Lets see how good their management is.

I think IIM and IIT alumni should do something..
Selma Mirza said…
I feel very strongly about this too. Reservations are just not the answer.
Unknown Indian said…
Agreed. The only hope for IIMs is if Tendu Raja also forces reservations in ISB!
Anonymous said…
Hi Govind, this, too, shall pass.

On another subject, boss, as a biz journo who I respect (whatever that is). . . (and I have more than once been in the crowds in front of you as well as maybe on a panel or three with you in the past) . . . I would have thought that the subject of selling over MRP would be something you would have known more about.

And cared, too.

Cheers/DD's rum drinking and driving pal.
Anonymous said…

Now I am wondering ! My obsevations on MRP were purely in the context of whether a Pilot in Command should be overly concerned..not on the merit of MRP itself.

Though, I must admit I am struck by the ferocity of your case in the Air Deccan episode. To that extent, I must perhaps think again.

Either way, this has no bearing on the MRP debate vis-a-vis my local pan ka dukaan etc. With you on that. Does the Weights & Measures Act differentiate ? You've studied it extensively..!

And meanwhile, if you can recall/relate specific instances on pilot culpability in the `frisking' matter that you raised, maybe you want to share them, privately if not publicly..!
Anonymous said…
I think whole faculty of IITs and IIMs shud take a firm stand against it and if possible resign from their position to voice their opinions to the deaf ears of arjun singh and co.IT's been since long that govt has been bossing arnd on IITs and IIMs just because they fund has really reached to a sickening extent of interference...
Kaala Kavva said…
Reservations Suck!
Join In
ali said…
This 'higher education'thing has now become a sickening stuff. I guess this was the same Arjun singh, who provided succor to the IIMs two years back by doing away with the "high-fees" hullabaloo of his predecessor Mr MM Joshi, and now this! I guess if IIMs (and other such institutes of higher learning, barring few) could have only lowered the entrance fees to say Rs 100, a more diverse people and from economically challenged section might have been able to attempt such exams frequently. This wouldn’t have given any excuse to impose such quotas on them. I would much rather have Arjun singh restrict this entrance fee racket that prevents so many interested candidates from getting into these inst. And as with any other other problem, the leaders have again chosen a wrong means to solve the problem, while the real issue will always linger long after the bills have been passed, implemented (ask several quota candidates at IITs and they will narrate tales of depression and complexes!) and everyone, including Mr Dholakia would go back to their nice easy sarkari jobs. Don’t think any of the professors have the guts to challenge this!
Anonymous said…
how do i send you an email please??
Anonymous said…



Bombay Addict said…
GE - Touche. Reservations are indeed not the answer. Yet, good to see the way the India Bloggers are unifying on this.

Yesterday's Big Fight (NDTV), where OBC students staged a walkout on a debate on this issue, made a very interesting watch.

No dissenting posts in the Indian blogosphere as yet ?
desh said…
These politician dont give a damn. Infact these people dont need to send their children to any of the institutes. Their sons and daughters go to Havard for an MBA come back, beat an established player in politics in Elections and are chosen to parliament(you are somewhere in Mumbai so u must know better).
And some coming from a rich political family lineage dont come up with a Graduate for three generations and still come up with 3 Prime Ministers the fourth one not admitting to be one, fifth one waiting in the pipeline along with his colombian girlfriend on the sidelines(I forgot to mention a family planning machine, poor fellow died in a air crash....voila something good...his son a graduate)...
They dont need to anything...Its us the seedha sadha nothing doing Middle Class Junta who take the beating and dont we love to take it...
To its fine continue...
Anonymous said…
I understand the complete lack of rationale behind least in areas such as higher professional education. Unfortunately, if you badger about with comments such as "snobs" from St. Stephen's College, Delhi etc, you will probably infuriate a section of society that has actually been trying to make a difference. Maybe you should look back through history and try and see WHY St. Stephen's or St. Xavier's have excelled, and why even today Stephanians and Xavieriites the world over command the kind of respect NO OTHER institute in India has been able to do. Anyway, think about it!!!
Unknown said…
y ppl like you havent ever protested or criticised against management quota....
and y u blabber all the time about IITs and IIMs

Mst ppl blabbering here dont even figure in the top 10,000 ranks qaurter of which is required to get a iit seat

and most ppl dont mention colleges like st stephens of delhi which are minority institutions where there is quota for christians and still nobody blabbers about its quality although it has 25% christian quota..Despite that it is the best college of DU and only above 95%ers take admission there..

you ppl are hypocrites
Unknown said…
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