IIM Thesis Controversy: Will the government decide the topic of Research?

If the research reveals some uncomfortable truth that the ruling establishment does not like, should that research be purged or used to address the issue?

Now your research is also under the scanner! The recent incident is of IIM-Ahmedabad where a dissertation was submitted on March 2020 for a Ph.D. degree. The dissertation contained three essays on electoral democracy approved for the award of a Ph.D. degree at a seminar chaired by the institute’s director, Erol D’Souza.
The Ministry of Education (MoE) had asked the Institute for a copy of the thesis in April 2020 after Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy sent a letter to the Prime Minister alleging that the thesis said the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party were “ethnically constituted” parties. And that the BJP is “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.
Swamy had urged the government that IIM-A should be directed to “re-examine” the thesis by independent professors and that the Ph.D. kept on hold until then.
When asked to share a copy of the thesis, D’Souza wrote to the MoE saying that the Ministry is not an arbiter of complaints regarding a thesis.
He is learned to have also said 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 it at these forums.

Are Public institutions free of govt interference?  

In this context, it is to be seen how much the Ministry can interfere in the legal and administrative matters of the institute.

After the institute’s director, Erol D’Souza declined to share the thesis, the government sought powers to initiate an inquiry against the board of governors (BoG) of the IIM.

That proposal has been 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.

At the moment, IIM has cited autonomy to get out of this interference. But it throws a very serious question. Can a ministry interfere in what kind of research is going on in educational institutions if it falls under its jurisdiction?

Academic freedom is the research scholar’s freedom to express ideas without the risk of official interference. It is at the heart of university life. It is the essence of dissemination of knowledge and fostering independent thinking of students and academics. If academic freedom is curtailed or decided by govt. whims and fancies or corporate interests, then can any authentic work come out of the temples of knowledge. Research that only suits the corporate masters or does not hurt the powers to be will be approved.

On a scale of 0-1, India with a score of 0.352 already fares quite poorly, closely followed by Saudi Arabia and Libya (0.238). The Academic freedom index for India has dipped by 0.1 points in last five years.

India has not fared well in components like institutional autonomy, campus integrity, freedom of academic and cultural expression, and constitutional protection of academic freedom.

Research brings out what is happening in society and many times such research is used to build policies by the government also. If the research reveals some uncomfortable truth that the ruling establishment does not like, should that research be purged or used to address the issue?


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