A PhD thesis reignites debate on Govt control over IIMs

Subramanian Swamy asks why ‘upper caste’ tag for BJP in PhD thesis; Govt asks for a copy, IIM-A director pushes back


It was in April 2020, following up on a letter written by Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, against a PhD thesis of an Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIM-A) scholar, that the Ministry of Education (MoE) asked the Institute for a copy of the thesis, and also keep it on hold.

According to a report in the Indian Express, Subramanian Swamy had  alleged that the PhD thesis stated that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) were “ethnically constituted” parties. And that the BJP is a “a pro-Hindu upper caste party.”  In his letter, Swamy said the PM was not an upper-caste leader and such depictions were “propagated” by British historians to show India was never “one country” and its society was never united.

Going further, Swamy had also urged the Union government that IIM-A should be directed to “re-examine” the thesis by independent professors and that the PhD be kept on hold until then. According to the news report, when asked to share a copy of the thesis, Institute’s director, Erol D’Souza wrote to the MoE saying that the Ministry “is not an arbiter of complaints regarding a thesis.” The report added that he is learned to have also stated that the “Thesis Advisory and Examination Committee of the Institute had read the thesis, and parts of it were presented to a select academic community at the viva, and anyone having a complaint should have raised at these forums.”

However, the response of the MoE is yet another indicator, an official one at that, of the government’s attempts at more control over the IIMs last year. The dissertation at the centre of this controversy is reportedly one with three essays on electoral democracy, and had been “approved for the award of PhD degree at a seminar chaired by D’Souza in March 2020.”

According to The Indian Express, D’Souza is said to have sent another “reminder” regarding the ministry’s request to which “his response has not been received.” According to the news report, D’Souza’s refusal to share the thesis was cited in the “government’s justification for seeking powers to initiate an inquiry against the Board of Governors (BoG) of an IIM, if it’s ostensibly found to be acting, what the government thinks, is in contravention of the IIM Act.”

However, that proposal was shelved after the Law Ministry rejected the idea on the ground that “it’s inconsistent with the provisions of the IIM Act, which gives unprecedented autonomy to the 20 business schools. And that any provision permitting the government to take punitive action against the institute can only be introduced through an amendment in the law.”

Meanwhile, the debate on the IIMs’ institutional autonomy and accountability continues, and the latest controversy reported comes from IIM-Calcutta. Here, according to IE, the “Board of Governors and a significant section of the faculty have objected to the Director”. Reportedly, the Board clipped her “powers of appointment last week even though the rules of the IIM Act have no such provision” stated the news report.



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