As Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to urge expats and the world to “Make in India”, Union Human Resource Minister Smriti Irani recently struck a discordant note. In the course of an interview to a news channel, she singled out the directors of the Indian Institutes of Management of Ahmedabad and Bangalore for raising concern over the proposed IIM Bill, 2015.
And she pointed to the non-Indian status of the directors.
“Do you know why the directors of two IIMs, and not all, have expressed concern over the draft Bill on IIMs,” Ms. Irani asked the interviewer. She went on to give the answer. “That is because, they are not Indians. Look at the beauty of our government in terms of tolerance. Even a foreign citizen can call our free press and wax eloquent about our government and our systems and tell us how our Parliament should legislate …”
Ms. Irani’s comments on Ashish Nanda of the Ahmedabad institute and Sushil Vachani of the Bangalore one have created ripples at the institutes.
Mr. Nanda worked at Harvard and Mr. Vachani at Boston University. Both were chosen by a select committee of the societies of the two IIMs. Both left behind lucrative careers and came to India to head institutes of excellence, something Prime Minister Narendra Modi wanted them to do.
What has caused concern in management and academic circles is what they call a loaded attack on the directors for criticising the Bill. Mr. Nanda in particular has been quite outspoken in flagging issues of autonomy of the institutes. The IIMs pointed out that some provisions in the Bill, as reported in The Hindu , would seriously impact the autonomy of the institutes. Professor Anil Gupta of the IIM-Ahmedabad said: “It is the academic faculty of the IIMs which had raised concerns. It is not about individuals.”
The Hindu sent a mail to the directors who politely refused to comment. A mail sent to the HRD Ministry for the Minister’s comments did not elicit any response, though it was acknowledged.
Ms. Irani’s comments come after her Ministry’s attempts to iron out differences over the Bill following concerns raised over the erosion of autonomy of the IIMs.
Sources point to three implications of Ms. Irani’s observations. First, the impact on free speech, and what they see as the government’s attempt to silence critics. As a senior academic faculty member said: “Had it not been for the criticism, the government would not have gone back to the drawing board to redraft the Bill.” The second is what is the point of inviting the cream of academics from abroad to raise the standards of the IIMs, if they are attacked by Ministers themselves?
The third, the Bill makes its objective clear: to have management institutions of national importance with a view to empowering them to attain standards of global excellence in management, management research and allied areas of knowledge.
The Ministry has invited public comments on the Bill. Parliament is likely to debate the matter soon.