The tussle between Kapil Sibal and the IIT’s over the new proposed admission process

This post is not about the merits of the proposal that was mooted by the Human Resources Development ministry for the admission process into the IIT’s, the proposal talking about having a quota for the marks attained in the boards (and which will have a single test for all these top institutes such as IIT’s, NIT’s, and IIIT’s). These proposals were announced by the minister, Kapil Sibal, who defended the proposal as something that was proposed by the IIT’s and fully approved by them. From what I recall, the minister as his normal nature made statements to the effect that if there is any opposition, then the move could be re-thought. It was only a few days later, when there was more opposition that the minister’s ego must have been hurt, and he started denying that the move could be rolled back, and that the test would happen as per schedule in 2013.
The IIT’s in India have a huge image as a premier institute, and such an image has been developed over a long period of time, with the image of the IIT having been recognized the world over as reputed engineering colleges. An impression that the Government is trying to get some amount of socialism or equality into the process could be seen as a step that would lead to devaluing the value of the IIT brand name. Over the years, even though the IIT’s have been associated as a Government institution, there has always been an impression of a huge amount of independence that they have in operations matters, which in turn has increased their reputation.

Now, with this latest move, and the controversy it has generated, with some of the older IIT’s also stating that they will form their own impression test, this is something that could have been avoided. Unfortunately, this seems to be consistent with the impression that the entire UPA does not believe in discussion and negotiation, discussing items with key stakeholders and ensuring that everybody is on board with the proposal. Many other key policies that have been announced by the Government have had to be rolled back because of opposition, with the opposition not only coming from the opposition parties, but also from the allies of the Government.
What would it have taken for this entire controversy to have been avoided. It seems pretty clear that there was some amount of discussion, but the Government miscalculated in terms of having only had a brief discussion with some of the stakeholders, but not all of the stakeholders. Further, given the decades long existence of the IIT’s, any policy that leads to some major changes will see mis-communication, mis-information, and a lot of opposition. Typically, there are 2 ways to enforce such policy changes – either you do this by fiat, where the ministry and minister declares that this is the policy and so there; the second policy is that you start by discussing the basic question, roll out some proposals and then try to steer the discussion in a certain way (the advantage of such a method also being that it no longer occupies prime media position and the required changes can then be implemented).
Kapil Sibal seems to have tried the first method, and although the Government is extremely powerful, there is a huge concept of the independence of the IIT’s (changes in university policies do not generate the same opposition) and the image of the IIT’s is a powerful brand in the middle class and the media. It now seems that the position is getting more confused; the IIT’s do not like the minister and the ministry dictating to them about what to do, and the minister’s ego will not let him back down, unless the opposition is so fierce it threatens to involve more people outside the minister (which is why the attempts to involve the Prime Minister can lead to a compromise).

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