Arun Shourie’s Interview on Rediff

In a 11 March rediff article titled “Mediocrity has become the norm“, the transcript of an interview of Arun Shourie makes interesting reading. I especially like his views on how Indian education has to change.

Excerpts:

I have been very fortunate, meaning I have not had to struggle with poverty so to say. I am the son of a very honest civil servant, a very creative one. But I struggled against authority, which would mean governments, dominant intellectual fashions etc. For instance, when everybody was a socialist, I felt that those controls, and the License Quota Raj is going to cost us a generation and everybody condemned what I wrote at that time.

The other evening at a dinner someone defended Mr Nehru. I had said that Nehru was clueless about economics: he insisted on a socialistic centrally planned economy and that it was a disaster. The other person said that Nehru went for socialistic planning because that was the fashion those days.

Yes, it may have been the fashion among ignorant retards. People who have vision and are intelligent see beyond the fashions of their time. They are leaders, not people who don’t know that they don’t know.

But let me not go on a rant on Nehru. There will be world enough and time.

Shourie:

. . . much of the change is brought about by very small elites. The great masses of India [ Images ] can’t produce metal alloys that are needed for rocketry, for missiles, for the Arjun tank. So, we must respect elitism when it is based on merit and competence. Now, mediocrity has become the norm. Intimidation has become argument, and assault has become proof. Because I can assault you therefore I am right.

So, I am much for elitism, which is based on opportunity for everybody, positive help for everybody. And, based entirely on performance and merit. The current, reducing elitism to be a prerogative (sic) word has come entirely from this Leftist discourse. Which is, under the guise of equality, you pull down the standards. And anyone who has achieved something, you say, damn fool, elitist.

I am sure that Shourie must have said “pejorative” and someone not too familiar with English took it as “prerogative.”

Anyway, the UPA government is doing its best to drag India back to some Gandhian state of innocence and purity where “spiritual” values fill the empty stomachs of Indians. The race to the bottom will see India at the bottom soon enough.

In 1982, I learn from the interview that Mrs Indira Gandhi got on Shourie’s case and got him fired from his newspaper job. That’s how dictators behave — if they don’t like what you write, they make life miserable for you.

Mrs Gandhi was a ruthless person. Her name is plastered over all sorts of schemes, roads, airports, and institutions. But Indians actually celebrate the triumphs of those who raped India — Aurangzeb is one such. Go to Delhi and drive around Mother Teresa Crescent. Another ruthless person.

Moving along, here’s what Shourie feels about private entrepreneurs in education

. . . they will come only if there is profit involved. But, they will not be able to build an institute, an institution of excellence, if they keep interfering and running it as a business. A good model is American institutions; they are all set up by millionaires. Somebody gives a million dollars, someone donates acres of land. But, after that he doesn’t interfere, he has that self-restraint to leave it to professionals, each of whom has been selected on the only criteria of their extreme dedication to education.

. . . My regret is that a larger number of Indian industrialists who have done well and set up institutes of excellence in their own industries have not done the same thing in education. I am quite hopeful that the new breed of entrepreneurs are self-made men, who did not have much money to begin with but are now billionaires.

If they are enabled to come into the field of education, they will bring the same spirit into education; that is my plea. If we don’t do that, the field will be open to racketeers, they will definitely come in and fill up the vacuum. That is the scene as of now, which happens in every society.

To the question of appropriate policy framework, Shourie says

The greater freedom to persons of worth to set up educational institutions, is one. But, at the same time strong rating agencies which are not in the hands of anybody, they are free spirits. True rating agencies, regulations but ratings that will put pressure for excellence. Some of those will be corrupted, no doubt.

Racketeers will suborn those who are doing the rating. But, some will arise among them saying ‘No, our future depends, even our business future depends on being a credible rating.’ Second thing that will improve standards is surfeit of supply. Today, racketeers are prospering, because there is a shortage. That is how regulaters get corrupt.

I have proposed that India should have an Education Regulatory Authority. See this post “A Modest Proposal to Make India 100 percent Literate in 3 years.” That post is around 6 years old.

Then Shourie is asked what he would do to bring about change.

To clean up the regulators, because that is the most accessible thing that a Minister can first do, UGC, AICTE and all. The main thing would be to encourage a large number of publications and freelancers to monitor their contributions. That would go a long way. Third, to do everything possible to turn our education system to the future. It’s not looking far enough, in terms of the syllabi, that’s very important.

Probably use technology to get over the shortage of good teachers. That’s very possible today and that would be a quick way to multiply quality in India. We can use institutions which are known for excellence to do their corporate social responsibility by becoming places to upgrade teacher quality in their regions.

I have added the emphasis in the last para quoted above. I have been working on precisely that for the last few years.

Mr Shourie is good. That is why India is unlikely to have him as the prime minister. A flock of sheep will not vote to have a lion as their leader.

[Hat tip: Akshar Prabhudesai for the link.]

10 thoughts on “Arun Shourie’s Interview on Rediff

  1. I understand where Shourie is coming from, but I fear that he might be, might I say it without being condescending, a tad naive about the corruption machine that is Indian bureaucracy. There are actually quite a lot of millionaires in India who invest in education in India. The problem is that these are merely treated as revenue generators. My own college was one of these. The “faculty”, if you could call it that, was actually maybe 5-6 years older than us at most. And this was one of the better colleges where I came from, so that the quality of the average student was pretty good. This same scenario is true for most states in Central India and definitely in at least 2 of the southern states.

    The problem is that educational philanthropy is relatively unknown in India. Someone donating a sizable chunk of personal money to an educational institution without any wish for a slice of the pie is quite rare. It might be a different story for relatively well regulated institutions like the older IITs and IIMs but definitely not for most others.

    UGC and AICTE have never struck me as being especially effective in quality control or enforcement. Anyway, someone might contradict me and hopefully prove me wrong later. I do appreciate Shourie’ candour and his ability to call a spade a spade. His foresight and lack of sycophancy is a refreshing change. It goes without saying that this man will not get very far in Indian politics. What a pity.

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  2. Pravin,

    Shourie has clearly contrasted India’s private investors in education with USA’s in pointing out how the latter do not interfere with functioning after they make donations. This would imply that he knows what the situation in India is.

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  3. Ketan,

    I agree with you in that Shourie clearly understands the difference between the States and India in terms of philanthropic donation. What I wanted to point out was that the problem is not with agencies of regulation since there are various ways to get around that in India. Specifically in India where a UGC or AICTE rating does not stop anyone from claiming anything in advertisements. My own college is an example.

    What I should have perhaps stressed on is my feeling that Shourie relies too much on the idea that media and freelancers are an effective alternative. To take a small example, India’s largest English daily (TOI) has had various run-ins of this sort about the occlusion of ads and news. That this will only increase further is my opinion, since there is no motivation to not do so. Regarding freelancers, I think there is a good possibility that they might make more of an impact, but only on the internet. It is almost impossible to make a strong statement condemning any educational institution in the print media today (and sometimes even the internet). Case in point, the IIPM fracas. The UGC then backed off because of the Chaudhuris’ political clout. There is no guarantee that this will not be repeated again and again, specially since the print media shies away repeatedly from any news or opinion that might make them legally liable. Also, it is almost always a given the college donor is not lacking in substantive financial and political clout.

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  4. Yes Pravin, you’re right in that regard.

    Probably the reason such ratings will not work in India is because the hiring companies do not really expect the best people to work for them. Or alternatively, they do not really expect the abilities they look for to be inculcated in the students by their institutes. They anyway have to train them after recruiting them.

    I have no idea of how the corporate atmosphere is in India, but from what I understand since majority of companies do not really desire people with innovative streak and good training, so for them to pay an agency that would be involved purely in rating institutes on the bases of facilities and quality of training would not be much of an enticement.

    Such agencies might prove helpful if the government allows much more autonomy to the institutes to “customize” and modernize their curriculum. What I have been told by my engineering friends is that very little of what they learned in their four years of engineering would ever be applied at their work place. Starkest example of this is that some of even those with chemical or mechanical engineering degrees ended up with IT companies! And even IT engineers when they take up a job with IT companies have to be trained for certain period.

    So till the point curriculum of various courses start coinciding with industry requirements, grading of institutes will hardly serve much purpose.

    What probably could be done is that industry leaders could themselves set up inspection teams depending upon their specific requirements and grade institutes and recommend changes. In fact, they may kind of “adopt” institutes so that some electives could be introduced in the courses of the respective institutes, which would give the students an edge, and also allow those companies to put greater confidence in students who would graduate from there.

    But the basic problem is that there is a lot of inertia in government machinery. To the extent I know faculty at government institutes acts bureaucratically and is at loggerheads with private enterprises, and would never allow such inspections nor would they incorporate recommendations, because it would hurt their egos. Also, all this will require UGC and AICTE to be a lot more flexible.

    So I don’t know if our thinking and discussing on such issues actually helps or not. 🙂

    But thanks for your clarification!

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  5. These real intellectuals like Shourie have not taken up effort to speak out and get support in public so their likes will gather public opinion and eventually would get voted into parliaments as a majority block where they can change public policies.

    When NDA was in power, we had another moron sitting in HRD, trying to subvert education for his own personal goals. BJP couldn’t do much since it was in power as a coalition of other thug parties.

    BJP has some good minds like Shourie, Jaitley, Sushma etc but somehow they don’t get greater public support to come to power and make changes. Unfortunately we have to put up with this pathetic UPA and its socialist policies :((((((

    Shouldn’t we evolve a mechanism in our country, where, such intellectuals’ voices are heard and implemented, even though they may be out of parliament? Why should only those in power (even though many are morons) get to have a say on public policies? Shouldn’t we have independent public policy institutes chaired by real intellectuals (unlike JNU types) who evolve and implement changes to policies?

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  6. A nation which argues in favor of even more reservations(womens, muslims, this that) – is bound to be mediocre and worse.

    I recently saw a Police Jeep come near my apartment every evening and the hawkers going over to it and handing over money. I asked the Pani Puri guy what was going on, he said every hawker has to pay 25 Rs Hafta to Police Jeep every evening.

    I asked him why – Hawker said because he does not have a Hawkers License. I told him to get one. His reply was: Police does not give us the license purposefully – so that they can keep collecting the Hafta.

    We have all become slaves of government clerks/police/bureaucrats/sarkari-afsar.

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  7. These real intellectuals like Shourie have not taken up effort to speak out and get support in public so their likes will gather public opinion and eventually would get voted into parliaments as a majority block where they can change public policies.

    When NDA was in power, we had another moron sitting in HRD, trying to subvert education for his own personal goals. BJP couldn’t do much since it was in power as a coalition of other thug parties.

    BJP has some good minds like Shourie, Jaitley, Sushma etc but somehow they don’t get greater public support to come to power and make changes. Unfortunately we have to put up with this pathetic UPA and its socialist policies :((((((

    Shouldn’t we evolve a mechanism in our country, where, such intellectuals’ voices are heard and implemented, even though they may be out of parliament? Why should only those in power (even though many are morons) get to have a say on public policies? Shouldn’t we have independent public policy institutes chaired by real intellectuals (unlike JNU types) who evolve and implement changes to policies?

    Like

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