MIT (the one in Pune - not Cambridge, MA) has introduced a 'Master's Program in Government'. A 1 year full time program for any graduate under age 35. Admissions will be through an online objective test followed by personal interview by an 'elite panel of leaders'.
So far so good.
We often debate why the country does not produce political leaders of a certain calibre. The answer is: there is no ‘career path’.
No course can lead to a 'campus placement' as Member of Parliament but yes, it may provide some kind of platform for those from non-political backgrounds. Especially the urban, middle class educated type - they're always keen on entering a profession with the right 'qualification'.
The question is, will this course serve that purpose?
Pros and Cons
MITSOG claims to be the 'first ever professional leadership program in India and Asia for a career in politics and government'. Frankly the only other 'School of Government' I know of is at Harvard. However, the JFK School of Government seems more focussed on public policy than serving as a stepping stone into politics itself.
The MITSOG course promises to be a blend of classroom lectures, field visits and national study tours to Parliament, state legislative assembly, zilla parishad, panchayat, NGOS, model villages etc. There is a thesis which includes 'internship' with a political party and a 15 day international visit to The Hague, British Parliament etc thrown in as well.
Secondly, in the manner of industry supporting a bschool, the MITSOG seems to have the support of the political and familiar-with-politics class. The ad, published this Sunday, features the name of T N Seshan as 'Chairman'. The website indicates 'leaders as faculty'. Leaders such as L K Advani and Shri A K Bardhan ("I am willing to play the role of Professor Emeritus").
And herein lies the catch in what is otherwise a well meant and much needed initiative...
a) Do practising politicians make effective teachers? Or desirable ones? Yes and no. They can share their experiences and offer valuable insights. But constrained by the politics they must practice, what they choose to share will be carefully weighed. And watered down.
The old guard may simply dampen the idealism of the young people who want to make a change by asserting ‘things have always been this way’!
b) Secondly would they enter the classroom prepared for rational discussion and debate, even on sensitive issues? Say a student questions Advani on Gujarat or Bardhan on Nandigram - would the faculty respond objectively or simply storm out of class?
c) The presence of big names - even if only for the odd lecture - adds glamour to the course (and ensures internships). But what about some of the other names on the list? There's Poonam Mahajan - 'leader - BJP'. So raw and inexperienced, she may need lessons herself.
Then there are the likes of Arjun Singh and Anbumani Ramadoss ... What will they teach - Quadratic Equations to Solve Caste Politic Puzzles?
d) International study tours sound great but are not really necessary. What most candidates who join such a course need is more exposure to the 'real India'. Also such tours cost a great deal of money… must be an optional element of a course which currently costs Rs 1.5 lakhs.
e) Lastly, emphasis on oratory and leadership development is commendable. The first is a technique one can teach - the second requires correct selection of raw material. It would be interesting to see the composition of the inaugural batch!
I'm also wondering what is the policy when it comes to selecting sons and daughters of politicians – if they apply. Do they get treated like everybody else - or do they have a competitive advantage/ disadvantage?
Having said all this I still think it's a good initiative. Because it's not about academic learning alone but practical exposure and hands-on experience.
But it will work only if politicians are restricted to taking a few guest lectures and admissions are clean and transparent. Neta log need to see a ‘School of Government’ as more than a course. It can be a pipeline of raw talent, of fresh and idealistic young blood and bold new ideas.
Bottomline: The support of the political class adds credibility to the MITSOG. But making politics itself a credible career option is a far more difficult task
I wish the MITSOG every success - we shall be watching closely!