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Saturday, February 23, 2013

IIPM - Lightning Rod For Angst Against "The System"

Sure, a free-floating IIPM, from all accounts, is mediocrity personified. But, is it any worse than numerous other institutions that have state recognition?

In 2005, being 8 years younger, I held a worldview as would be held by one who hadn't quite begun independently experiencing the outside world, yet. In those formative years of my life, reading JAM was considered to be "cool", learning about Colleges & Universities, their inner dope & trends that were "hip" & currently "in" at that time, & then following suite - a Bible for the urban Indian youth. It was during that time, in one of its issues, as I recall, that it did an 'expose' on this institution, that calls itself "The Indian Institute of Planning and Management" [IIPM]. In its article[s] JAM highlighted how the IIPM, predominantly through its ad blitzkrieg, which continue to this day in major Indian newspapers, was making claims that were either exaggerated or plain false. Subsequently, the organisation initiated legal proceedings against the publication, citing defamation. Those writings in JAM moulded my perception of the IIPM, that has only been reinforced with other subsequent events.

Scans of the issue of JAM in question: Scan 01 - Scan 02 - Scan 03 via Gaurav Sabnis

However, what I lacked at that time was a proper framework within which I could place IIPM's "activities" viz-a-viz other "Education imparting organisations" in the country, especially ones that had sought & received sanction to operate from the country's regulatory bodies - the UGC & AICTE. My time in College gave me innumerable opportunities to visit other College campuses, to either hang out with school friends studying there then or attend its 'College Fest'. It was during one such festival, that students of the local IIPM outlet had organised, that I visited their "den". Modest that its infrastructure was4, it, however, was no worse than that of some of other modest, University-affiliated educational institutions in the city. Their outlet at my place, for example, operates out of a solitary 3/4-storied structure, which does not have a boundary wall to separate it from the road. The structure itself nearly juts out into the street. Judging from the space available, any attempt to raise a wall would probably leave no space for the students to park their vehicles there, as is being done now.


via Cartoon Mania!

Such an arrangement is, perhaps, still better than an affiliated college, newly started, operating out of a residential complex. New & low ranking medical colleges in India are also known to temporarily bring in patients from other hospitals into their own, each time they learn of an inspection, so that they can show the required occupancy, as stipulated. Relatively new Engineering Colleges are known to hire individuals, on temporary basis, as permitted, who do not yet have the required Post-Graduates degree, to conduct classes, while they search for the right candidate. If sufficiently satisfied with the teaching skills & students feedback, their contract is often extended for periods beyond what is permitted. There are innumerable other such stories of institutions with affiliations, in India. The overwhelming & burgeoning demand for education has allowed for setting up of institutions in manners where the quality of teaching imparted in its initial years leaves one wanting at many of these places.

For the litany of allegations against IIPM: "IIPM is a scam!" Learn the real facts about Arindam Chaudhuri and IIPM

Despite this muddle prevailing in the lower & lower-mid end of Indian education spectrum, criticism against them would be at a notch lower compared to that against a group like the IIPM. One of the benefits of having a centralised education framework is that while you may study in any college, the exams for the courses are conducted by the University to which the College is affiliated. In the example of the college operating out of a residential complex, cited above, it is affiliated to the University of Mumbai, a well-respected body. At the end of each year, the mark-sheet handed over is issued by the University, bearing its own name3. Therefore, while a college itself may have had its reputation badly tarnished, as long as the credibility of the University & the exam process it conducts is not called into question, genuine students of such Colleges who would study hard for their exams, wouldn't be as adversely affected. This is especially true of courses like Arts & Commerce. In case of students from the Science stream too, Universities have discretionary powers to make arrangement for them to perform their practical experiments in facilities of nearby Colleges.

Students of entities like the IIPM, however, are afforded no such safety net. Being an operation in which it itself admits students, conducts their exams & awards "Kelvins/Celsius/Fahrenheit/Certificate"-whatevers, any flaw in either one of the process would have a domino effect on the others, with the students ending up hurt in the final analysis. Credibility of the students of IIPM rests on the credibility that IIPM itself can project of its self. It could also explain why the Arindam Chaudhuri-lead IIPM chain of outlets so aggressively takes to legal means to snuff out opinions & reports that cast the man & his ventures in less than favourable light, much less calling them dishonest. As things stand, however, such recourses seem to have only the opposite effect.

The Internet, recently, went into yet another bout of outrage, this time after learning that IIPM had gone to court in an effort to to sanitise its image, seeking to block URLs of content critical of the man & his enterprise, citing defamation. One of the URL sought to be blocked was no less than a Government of India notification itself, that simply stated what has been an uncontested fact - the IIPM has no recognition/affiliations with the UGC, & that it is not a University [Published in the newspaper]. Do you think the President of the United States, Mr Barack Obama, would file a case of defamation against me, if tomorrow I announce on my blog, saying he is not related to me?1 As absurd as it sounds, this is exactly the line of IIPM's argument in getting the UGC URL blocked. It succeeded.

As a citizen of India, he is entirely within his rights to approach the court of law "seeking justice" if and when he feels the need. On this count I find it difficult to fault Mr. Arindam Chaudhuri's approach. To be fair, I find absolutely nothing wrong in the course of action taken by that individual to protect his interests & place his case in front of a judge. If anything, it is what is expected of every law-abiding Indian citizen, if he or she feels injustice has been done, instead to resorting to violence, vandalism or illegal means of intimidation. What is worrying, however, is the fact that the Judge of a lower court entertained his case, instead of dismissing it & also found itself fit to pass a judgement [of blocking URLs] that has ramifications over the entire extent of the country, despite the court being placed lowest in the hierarchy of the Indian judicial system. A well-disposed Judge would have refused to preside over the hearings of this case, and instead would have asked the complainant to make his plea in a higher court of law. As reaffirmed by legal experts, the District Court in Gwalior has passed an over-arching judgement that is beyond its brief. If anything, in this case, it is the Indian Judiciary that has failed the citizens of India, becoming complicit in permeating an unjust situation.

What is also worrying is Mr. Chaudhuri's invocation of Section 66A of the Information Technology [IT] Act, that has come for all-round criticism for its potential for abuse & misinterpretation towards silencing dissent & criticism, to argue its case. For this too, Arindam  "IIPM" Chaudhuri can absolutely not be faulted for seeking refuge of 66A. The law exists, legislated by the Parliament of India. It is the sovereign right of every Indian to invoke it if he/she deems fit. Judging the suitability of the complainant's citation of this section is the discretion of the Judge who, in this case, has been found wanting in the due deliverance of justice. Blame for the very existence, & subsequent [ab]use of Section 66A of India's IT Act lays  at the doorsteps of the Indian politicians who conceived & passed this law.

I, therefore, find it highly humorous & tragic, in equal measures, seeing people getting worked up over IIPM's actions, and expending their efforts in targeting it, instead of focussing attention & attacking the factors in the Indian system, that have facilitated Mr. Chaudhuri to go after his critics in this manner. "Mr. IIPM" & his activities are a cumulative manifestation of the failings, loop-holes & ill-defined areas that exist in the Indian systems - Legislative, Judicial as also the Mass Media2 & the mainstream Education System itself, that has been unable to scale up to meet growing demands, without affecting the quality of service. A productive & tangible effort, that would lead to a more permanent solution would be to use this incident to mobilise action for the redressal of these multiple faculties of failures & shortcomings in the system governing lives in India. Once these have been satisfactorily resolved, Mr. Chaudhuri's avenues in his efforts to sanitise his image would dry up automatically. Till the time the fundamentals are flawed and the individuals responsible for formulating & implementing them aren't held accountable, the likes of IIPM would continue to raise their heads at every given opportunity. With Mr Arindam having set the template, a lawful system can very cleverly be used to achieve less-than-lawful ends. As affluent as Mr. Arindam Chaudhary is, he is still an inconsequential entity in the order of things known as the 'Republic of India'.

Here is a record of IIPM's unintelligent attempt to embellish its & that of its owner's "reputation" online. This is a stream of messages as posted to Twitter.

"Take a look at the Twitter accounts seen in the video [you may have to pause & watch it in full screen]. All they do is tweet stuff that praise Indian Institute of Planning and Management [IIPM] or Re-Tweet the ones tweeted by accounts purported to be that of Arindam? Chaudhuri, the owner of IIPM outlets."

Seeing these infantile attempts, is it possible to accept their claims that IIPM creates future leaders of great intellectual calibre?


1 = Even without knowing who I actually am, rest assured, you wouldn't lose money by assuming I am not related to the current POTUS

2 = Media Houses, using their discretionary powers, accept money from IIPM to publish full page advertisements, on occasions as a specially added front page in their newspapers, as also running their ads on television.

3 = This holds true for the University I was part of, one of the good ones. It records among the highest enrolment of foreign students in India annually & holds a Grade 'A' rating from NAAC.

4 = Had been to their place a little over 3 years back, though that outlet had been operating for long before that.

Related: #Barkhagate - The buck does not stop here