Rise of small town India

Pic courtesy flickr/Google

Pic courtesy flickr/Google

[Editor’s Note: The piece below was penned by Akshay Garg, former co-founder at Komli Media. It appeared on his Facebook feed and I’m republishing here with his permission. Interesting analogies all around.]

Modi’s emphatic win in these Indian elections is shocking for many reasons, not the least of which is that in a country as divided by religion, caste, language and culture as this, he managed to stitch together a campaign that let the BJP emerge with enough votes to form a government on its own. To many in my generation who are used to the political horse-trading that follows every election and the Shakespearean drama that accompanies coalition politics in India, this is a parting of the clouds moment.

However, even more noteworthy in my opinion is the oft mentioned but little thought about fact that Modi, a tea-maker’s (chai-wallah’s) son with no political lineage and no godfather to guide him, has made it to the most powerful position in India. For those who thought that Slumdog Millionaire was all fiction, here’s living proof that it’s not. Incredible India. Really, yes.

Modi’s ascendance is a sign of the times. It’s no flash in the pan. To astute observers of the changes sweeping through India, and the subcontinent, Modi’s ascendance might even have been expected. There’s a deep and strong current that is bringing Modi and the likes of him to the surface, and it’s not the last time that we’ll be seeing this.

To understand what is going on here, take a look at the Indian cricket team. In the previous century, the nucleus of the Indian cricket team was a bunch of well behaved, English-speaking, middle to upper class gentlemen that all came from Bombay. Gavaskar, Amarnath, Manjrekar, Shastri and finally Tendulkar. All competent players, some even best in the land, but when it came to a team, they were a bunch of also-rans. With the exception of the World Cup victory in 1983, the Indian cricket team was a bunch of good guys who were super comfortable donning blazers and making small talk at the Marylebone Cricket Club (more commonly known as the home of the Lord’s cricket ground) then grinding their noses to the ground in the quest for the top position. All that started changing with Saurav Ganguly captaining India from 2000 onwards. Who can forget that scene in 2001 where he took off his shirt and waved it while standing in the Lord’s balcony celebrating India’s come from behind victory beating England? The musketeers who lead that charge for Ganguly were two small town players – Yuvraj and Mohammed Kaif. Ganguly selected guys like them, stood by them and expected them to get results. They did. Ganguly didn’t have a perfect record, but his captaincy was a ‘come out of the shadows’ moment for India. Other teams started taking India seriously. The Indian team, too, started believing that they could take on the best and beat them too, on their home turf. With MS Dhoni, the son of a plumber from Ranchi, Jharkhand, the phenomenon has come full circle. Dhoni and his men are uninhibitedly small-town India. They flex their muscles, they twirl their moustaches, they give lip and they take it. At times, it results in extremely poor behaviour like when Harbhajan Singh, the truck driving spinner from Jalandhar, called Andrew Symonds a ‘monkey’ in reference to his race, but for the most part, this small town backgrounds manifests itself in hunger and ‘an eye for an eye’ attitude that the Indian cricket team never had in the previous century.

Modi represents the same phenomenon. In this drama, you can let the Gandhi family take the place of the Bombay cricketers referenced above. They’ve had a stranglehold on Indian politics since our independence in 1947 but today, the Congress party has been reduced to having less than 10% of the seats in the Lok Sabha. In their place now is Modi and small town India. Look through the electoral map and you’ll be amazed by how many of the urban educated, suave candidates have lost. More and more, it’s the ‘salt of the earth’ candidates who are voted into our Parliament.

I don’t have a view of this being good or bad or better or worse. It’s just another manifestation of what’s happening in India where traditional centers of power and influence are getting upended by the spreading of opportunity and increased awareness in Tier 2 and rural India. These candidates are local in terms of their affiliations and outlook, petty-minded if you will, but they at least bring to India a sense of belief and self-confidence that had all but disappeared with the Congress. The Nehru-Gandhi family had the temerity to make the affairs of a billion people a family business. Every year for the past 5 years, all the corruption, lack of decision making, empty posturing had chipped away an inch from the height of every Indian. Here’s India, straining at the leashes trying to jump high, and there, they, while claiming to be the representatives and guardians of the people, take one inch away from the people every year! It’s like making a dog run harder and harder to catch its own tail. Bastards.

Modi and team will, if they’re lucky, get much right and little wrong, but more realistically, much right and much wrong. Making a jump from running a state of 60 million people to running a country of a billion people is not easy. Making a jump from managing affairs at a local level to playing a responsible role on the world stage is a road littered with mines. But that’s not where Modi’s success or failure lies. In giving a big f***ing middle finger to the Nehru-Gandhi family, he is taking away that collective feeling of being handicapped and in place restoring some much needed confidence and self-belief in the psyche of India’s people who’ve been battered and bruised in the past 5-10 years. As any sports coach will tell you, confidence and self-belief is at least 50% of the winning formula. The rest is skill, for which the jury on Modi is still out.

On a nation with drastically low expectations

Pic: courtesy icms.net

Pic: courtesy icms.net

Three tweets from @albatrossinfo (RT’d by CentreRight India’s Prasanna Viswanathan) caught my attention this evening.

It also reminded me of an old post — really a Facebook thread resurrected on my blog — Enough with the “we need better leaders” nonsense!

On heroes, martyrs, and beheadings…


Shared on my friend’s Facebook wall – a point of view from an army man (friend’s friend) who has served at the LOC (don’t know when or for how long). Provides a fresh perspective on what exactly the ‘beheading’ might have been and also on the issue of heroes vs. martyrs.

– Quote –

“I have always been proud of our Army and our soldiers – not only are they professionals but also patriots. I probably represent the miniscule national fraternity that does not see soldiers who have died on the line of duty as ‘martyrs’. To my understanding martyrs are those who die fighting odds in a cause other than their own chosen vocation. As professional soldiers, we choose to wield arms for national service voluntarily, aware of the risks and perks. We were trained to defend our lives and kill for a higher cause – that of defending our nation. While every soldier who loses his life or limb in the course of his professional calling is a hero, he is not a martyr. Don’t eugolise him as such – instead introspect whether he died for the right cause, or was he trained well enough, led well enough or prepared well enough? Look after his family that they are proud of their hero and don’t miss out on their existential necessities of everyday life and prosperity.

This nation of ours beats its puny chest for its ‘martyrs’ and does little more. For instance, the security folk who died when Parliament was attacked are eugolised annually as martyrs. This is insulting not only to their memories but hundreds others who die in the course of their duty. They died doing what they were trained, equipped, led, paid & expected to do – defend Parliamentry premises against unauthorised entry at all costs. If they failed, which they clearly did despite being superior numerically and by way of organisation, they died trying to make amends. They were no martyrs; probably no heroes too. Carelessness or complacency on the job, or both, may have actually cost them their lives.

This latest incident on the LoC with Pakistan has news channels abuzz with veterans joining retired bureaucrats in chestbeating over alleged mutilation of Indian soldiers, and chest-thumping over the need to respond by upping the ante. What a bucketload of poppy-cock (crap actually)! A professional analysis of the incident(s) will probably reveal that we Indians may have drawn first blood & fired the first shots in response to Pak provocations (they know how to stir the pot) in crossing the LoC in Uri to sort out a particular tactical irritant. These local tactical actions involve employing a small team of specially trained soldiers who infiltrate across the LoC to reach their intended target by stealth. Sentries are overcome using silent methods such as knife kills before rushing the objective for its worth.

I can only guess that we would have knocked off a Pakistani Observation Post by small trans-LoC commando action. Churunda, developed as a model village after the Uri quake, was right in the show-window on the LoC and certainly had no utility as an ingress point for infiltrating terrorists.

The Pakistanis have responded in the manner expected having allegedly lost a couple of soldiers. Given the snow conditions in the Valley, as well as the heightened alert on account of an anticipated enemy response, the Pakis reciprocated in kind in the Poonch-Rajauri sector. In doing so they to would have infiltrated a small Border Action Team across the LoC with a tactical mandate similar to that achieved earlier by the Indians. Sentry silencing on such missions using knives or other ‘traditional’ non-ballistic means is now being bandied about as mutilation. If the Pakistanis have deliberately beheaded an Indian soldier and carried off the head as a trophy, which they do, it is a brutal, barbaric anti-escalatory retort; Something like John Rambo’s menacing drawl in First Blood, “Let it go!”

Why are we whining about a lack of candle-light marches our public sympathy for fallen soldiers who have died in the line of duty? That they may have suffered barbaric mutilation is not a cause for public sympathy – it calls for due investigation and an appropriate response. Whether we behead a multitude of the enemy in counter-response or obliterate the enemy battalion’s posts through a high-explosive response, or seek civil means of settling the score and having the last say, is a matter for the wise and those in authority to decide.

Heroes not martyrs !


Crime does not pay – a rebooting manifesto


It’s been over a week since a hapless young medical student was brutally gang-raped and mercilessly beaten to within a micro-inch of her life. In this glorious nation’s capital.. inside a moving private bus with tinted windows that drove past five police checkposts without being stopped for an obvious violation of a law that went into vogue mere months ago. And the Chief Minister appears on a government sympathizer TV channel, sheds crocodile tears at her beloved city being dubbed the ‘rape capital’ yet doesn’t have the humanity to visit the woman battling for her life because she (honorable CM) failed miserably in her job. A job which apparently comes with the unique perk of absorbing all the accolades (however few they might be) and none of the brickbats. A job that apparently does not include law and order. This from a Chief Minister elected to office for the third successive time. And no – I shall not utter some nonsense like “dark side of democracy.”[1]

In the first week, I favorited every tweet that resonated and read every other opinion piece that came through my timeline. (Here’s my curated list.) While my emotional rage quotient ebbed and flowed (but mostly trended down), a nascent desire to act  started. Meanwhile on my daily commutes, I wrote (and rewrote) this blog post… in my head of course.

It’s a Funnel, stupid!

Much like the Anna Hazare movement’s Jan Lokpal Bill was touted as a mythical silver bullet to corruption in high (and low) places, a popular solution being brandished (by Bollywood celebrities, media mavens and social media sundry) is capital punishment for convicted rapists. It was by no means the only one silver bullet solution being proposed – a stupendously vacuous suggestion that came up sometime in my Facebook stream was to legalize prostitution – an added nuance being a ‘career option’ for BPL women. I privately wrote back to one of my friends that the solutions to combat rape lie on the entire gamut of a “funnel” – from the mechanics of penalties (be it capital punishment or life imprisonment without parole) to speedy justice (urgent and significant implementation of police and judicial reforms) to society and cultural changes.

Taking things personally

Recently my wife recalled a comment from one of our Bay Area friends (Z) after we had announced our plans to return to India. “I’m just not confident I’ll be able to protect my wife in India,” he had said. She added the following for good measure “I know you normally don’t think about these issues but I really respect what Z said that day.”

This got me thinking.

It’s not like I don’t love my wife. It’s not like I don’t care for her personal safety. It’s not like we have a risky lifestyle that potentially puts her in harm’s way. But.. am I spending time thinking about what is safe for her and our children? And am I doing anything to make her even feel safe? The answers to both are sadly No and No.

Problem. Big problem.

Demolition Man

One of Sylvester Stallone’s less popular movies was Demolition Man. Set in a futuristic society where crime rate has come down to zero percent… i.e. until a twentieth-century bad-ass villain gets released on parole from a cryogenic state. The villain wreaks havoc on the futuristic city which is ill-equipped to react to homicidal strategies from a distant era. The city’s (untested) crime fighting department comes up with a desperate remedy – unfreeze Stallone from a similar cryogenic state to help catch the new killer in the city. Stallone was a top-cop from the twentieth-century era who had caught that bad-ass villain in the first place (of course) but himself got into trouble leading to his cryogenic imprisonment.

Crime does not pay. This was the the tragic-comic phrase (with a distinct ad jingle-like effect) that keeps getting played in Demolition Man each time a crime took place. Kinda cheesy in the movie but totally appropriate as a rallying cry to fight crime in India.

Crime does not pay –> Crime SHOULD NOT pay

While the nation’s conscience and the protests in Delhi are (rightly) focused on rape, let’s not forget that India’s track record in battling and convicting murder/assault crimes is as deplorable as that for rape crimes. So let’s make Crime does not pay the rallying cry, shall we?

The Manifesto

  • I no longer care how filthy our streets are.
  • I no longer care how pathetic our pot-holed roads are.
  • I no longer care how many new scams are uncovered every month.
  • Just like every company that attempts a successful turnaround/reinvention focuses on ONE priority, I believe India’s priority needs to be Law and Order. Time to bring back the “L” in Law and “O” in Order.
    • I’ve just HAD it with rapes and gang rapes.
    • I’ve just HAD it with police (& society) making rape survivors’ lives miserable and driving them to suicide.
    • I’ve just HAD it with an ill-trained, poorly paid, corrupt and disrespected police force.
  • No more rapists going scot free.
  • No more rape cases dragging on for years.
  • No more murder cases dragging on for years.
  • Time to OCCUPY the police and judicial system and make Crime does not pay a reality.
  • For the next few years, measure and report on law and order metrics at all levels of governance.
  • For the next few years, hold EVERY elected politician and bureaucrat accountable to ONE metric – what are YOU (insert <local><state><central> politician) doing to improve the law and order situation?

Yeah. The vast majority of India’s billion plus population can neither afford a Blackwater-style security blanket nor are they entitled to Z-plus level security so we (the citizens) need to make the system work for us.

What precisely do I intend to do as part of my personal manifesto? For starters spend 1-2 hours every week on one of the aspects of this multi-faceted problem. Time to act has begun.

P.S. Already got feedback that this manifesto is high on theory and low on pragmatic todos. Hopefully that’ll change in the coming weeks.


Nehru’s pride, Indo-American relationship and the Indo-China war


Pic courtesy ibnlive.in.com

Gurcharan Das, in his book India Unbound, makes a pithy statement. When individuals make blunders, it’s sad but when leaders make blunders, it’s a tragedy. He was referring to Indira Gandhi but the statement applies equally to her father too. Nehru’s socialist leanings are well-known. What’s less known is that he was more attached to his personal ideology than the national interest. This letter from John Kenneth Galbraith (to JFK), in Ambassador’s Journal, illustrates that clash.. in the midst of the Indo-China war when India fervently requested (and the US obliged) with timely military aid. Nehru’s reluctance to publicly acknowledge America’s/JFK’s help is shocking and tragic.. especially when there was absolutely no anti-Americanism on the ‘Indian street’.

New Delhi, India

November 13, 1962

Dear Mr. President,

I have been waiting for the past ten days to give you a more detailed and intimate account of our affairs here. I have been sending rather full dispatches to the Department, some of which you have doubtless seen. But as you will have discovered, few Ambassadors have ever been completely candid in such reports. There is truth and there is also what one must have believed. I merely try to minimize the difference.

These past three weeks have brought great change here – no doubt the greatest change in public attitudes since World War II. The most treasured of preconceptions have been shattered. The disillusion with the Chinese is of course total. So, save at the top, is that with the Soviets. And the other unaligneds are not very popular. Nehru remains an exception. Even he is now hoping only for friendly neutrality from the Soviets rather than actual support. But with him there is another factor. All his life he has sought to avoid being dependent upon the United States and the United Kingdom – most of his personal reluctance to ask (or thank) for aid has been based on this pride. Now nothing is so important to him, more personally than politically, than to maintain the semblance of this independence. His age no longer allows of readjustment. To a point we can, I feel, be generous on this. …[Footnote#1]

One thing much on my mind these last days has been the American press. We have had a great influx of correspondents plus a large itinerant delegation covering the arms lift. … Were they bottled up here, the Indians would  get a bad press and so, inter alia, would we. I have now pretty well broken through on this, though I had to go to the Prime Minister himself. There will be many stories on the infirm character of his leadership, but that is not our business. I think Nehru is still playing down our role to protect the sensitivities of the Soviets and perhaps, more especially, to protect his own feelings. I have told him this was something we couldn’t take and have pictured the repercussions in the American press. We cannot decently help someone who is afraid to be seen in our company. There will be some damage along these lines, I fear.


long paragraphs on what China intends to accomplish with the war, followed by paragraphs on opportunism showed by Pakistan/Ayub.. Ends with comments on America’s Kashmir policy.


[Footnote #1]: There followed a long discussion of Indian political personalities which, along with some later references, I have deleted for reasons of taste. Another change has been made in this letter. In the private language of the State Department, the Pakistanis are sometimes referred to as “the Paks.” It is not, I think, an agreeable usage.


Unspecialized and rotating authority of civil service


In an earlier post, Rebooting IAS an essential part of Reforms 2.0 on my other blog, I had summarized a LiveMint article which outlined the key systemic problems with the IAS cadre. A few fixes have been proposed by Columbia University Arvind Panagariya — one of which was to encourage greater specialization.

Pantnagar University (Uttaranchal) – Pic courtesy euttaranchal.com

In Ambassador’s Journal, John Kenneth Galbraith writes about many interesting things during his tenure as US Ambassador to India. In this journal entry (Sep 8, 1961), he astutely observes the utter mismatch between the responsibilities of a university’s Vice-Chancellor to the IAS cadre. He’s talking about two problems — the lack of specialization and the unpredictably short nature of the administrator’s tenure.

The Vice-Chancellor, a civil servant, K.A.P. Stevenson, is able and alert, although being a civil servant, there is always the possibility that he will be dispatched next week for another task. Placing these positions under the unspecialized and rotating authority of the civil service is unwise. No one is permanently and professionally associated with a task and with the assurance that the handiwork will be his.

The institution in question is the Uttar Pradesh Agricultural University — popularly known as GB Pant University or simply “Pantnagar” — India’s first agricultural university and regarded as the harbinger of Green Revolution.


Prime Minister is like the great banyan tree…


No – not the current ‘great’ Dr. Manmohan Singh.

In Ambassador’s Journal, John Kenneth Galbraith writes about many interesting things during his tenure as US Ambassador to India. The journal entry from Jul 1961 captures a slice of the Nehruvian Prime Ministership.

July 26 – New Delhi


Mr. SK Patil (Food & Agriculture Minister, Nehruvian years) – Pic courtesy jollyboard.com

Later in the day I saw M. J. Desai who asked me what the “personal” invitation I had given to Indira Gandhi to accompany her father meant. I said the personal was in effect superimposed on official. He warned me in a friendly way to warn Chester Bowles (US Ambassador to India – 1951-53 and again from 1963) to pay a visit to Pakistan while her. Someone else should have thought of that first.

Finally tea with S.K. Patil (then Minister for Food and Agriculture) who gave me an exuberant and valuable account of his trip to the U.S.S.R., US and South America. I reproached him for saying in London that India had solved her food problem. He denied saying it. Or anyhow the papers had quoted what he didn’t want quoted. He recalled an earlier press interview in England when he was asked who would be the successor to Nehru. He had replied, “No one can say. The Prime Minister is like the great banyan tree. Thousands shelter beneath it but nothing grows.” He told me that, in consequence, his relations with Nehru had been strained for weeks.

Only “weeks”, I wondered. Had Patil been a minister in any recent Congress administration and committed a similar affront to the ‘Family’, he would probably been finished.



Kargil Vijay Diwas 2012: 13 Years Later


Pic: courtesy indiatimes.com

Two years ago, I created this commemorative photo blog on Kargil Vijay Diwas, featuring the brave officers who won the war for India. This year, I decided to share links to recent stories (and some from the archives) about Kargil’s heroes. Rediff interview with Yogendra Singh Yadav – hero of Tiger Hill.

  • 437 total awards from Kargil War (162 posthumous) – Full list of awardees
    • 4 Param Vir Chakras
    • 10 Maha Vir Chakras
    • 5 Uttam Yudh Seva Medals
    • 70 Vir Chakras
    • 15 Yudh Seva Medals
    • 1 Bar to Sena Medal (Gallantry)
    • 83 Sena Medals (Gallantry)
    • 1 Sarvottam Yuddh Seva Medal
    • 106 Sena Medal (Gallantry)
    • 16 Sena Medal (Distinguished)
    • 126 Mention-in-Despatches
  • Colonel (then Major) Prasad Mijar on fighting the battle of Tiger Hill and returning victorious
  • Captain Saurabh Kalia’s parents continue to persevere. What do ex-Presidents Narayanan, Abdul Kalam and Pratibha Patil have in common? All have sent a standard reply  — Your letter has been received and would be forwarded for necessary action and have taken no subsequent action — to Captain Kalia’s parents, on their campaign to highlight the Pakistani Army’s brutalities committed on the prisoners of war.
  • On Dr. Rajesh Anand treating the soldiers’ injuries in the treacherous peaks of Mushkow and Tololing.
  • From the Indian Army website : Kargil War Heroes (officers only)
  • From the Wayback machine – 533 Indian casualties
  • And let’s definitely NOT forget the corrupt politicians and military leaders from Adarsh scam who almost got away with cheating the Kargil heroes
  • And the Defense Ministry is making ‘comfortable progress’ in the war memorial for Kargil

Update (Aug 15, 2012): Added link to interview with Hero of Tiger Hill (Yogendra Singh Yadav).


Why Lal Bahadur Shastri wanted to spend a night in a Kaira district village


This story (from Verghese Kurien’s I too had a dream) continues from When an Indian Prime Minister spent a night in a village..unannounced..in 1964.

He visited the huts of Harijans in the village. He sat with them and talked to them. He visited the Muslim families in the village. Till two o’clock in the morning, he was busy talking to the farmers and their families about their lives and their problems. The Home Secretary had to remind him about his next day’s programme, which was to begin at seven a.m. He was forced to retire for the night.

The next morning the Prime Minister visited the village milk cooperative society run by the elected representatives of the village. I met him there for the first time and explained to him the working of the cooperative. Only after this did he come to Anand and to my house. Later, he declared open the cattle-feed compounding factory and addressed the gathering with an inspiring speech. Then we returned to my house.

At home, he sat me down and told me something extremely interesting. He said, ‘Under the Second and Third Five Year Plans, we have built so many dairies. All of them owned and run by the government. All of them were unmitigated disasters, running at a loss. But I heard Amul dairy and its products are liked throughout the country. It’s available throughout the country and has an extremely high growth rate every year. I want to know why this particular dairy is a success when all the others have failed That is why I decided that I would stay here and find out. And that is why I spent a night with the villagers, trying to fathom the reasons for the success of Anand’s Amul dairy. But I am sorry to say, Kurien, that I have failed.

‘I looked at the soil. Good soil, but not as good as the Indo-Gangetic plains. I asked about the climate here. Cold in winter, very hot in summer, I was told. So it is in most of India. Nothing special. I enquired about the rainfall. Thirty inches of rain for three months of the year during the monsoon – much like the rest of the country. I had expected to see the entire landscape green, with cattle grazing contentedly, but the whole place is brown, just like the rest of India. I did not find any abundant availability of fodder and feed here. I looked at your buffaloes and don’t mind my saying this, Kurien, but they are not as good as the buffaloes in my home state of Uttar Pradesh. Those buffaloes are certainly better and even give more milk. Lastly, I looked at your farmers. They’re good people – farmers are always good people – but they are not as hardworking as the farmers of Punjab. I can’t find a single reason why Anand is such a great success. Now, can you please tell me what is the secret of its success?

… to be continued.. [In Part 3, Verghese Kurien’s answer and the genesis for NDDB.]

Attracting diaspora to address India’s higher education faculty gap


Pic: courtesy hebrewhistory.info

[Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on my other blog (TechSangam) – republishing here since it’s clearly relevant to the Return to India meme. Earlier this year, academic collaborators from Rutgers University, Penn State University and Tata Institute of Social Sciences published an insightful study that quantified the severe gap in higher education faculty in India and, after surveying nearly 1,000 Indians who are either pursuing or have completed graduate study in the U.S, came up with results that are surprising and encouraging for Indian universities. In Part 1, we looked at key trends around higher education in India. In this post, we’ll present key trends around the willingness of Indian graduates to return to India.]

Why They Left for US in the First Place?

A combination of factors – high-quality teaching, cutting-edge research, professionalism and post-graduation options – were all deemed to be very important in attracting young people to study in the US. High quality teaching was the single most important factor for half of the respondents, but a number of factors were rated as “important” or “most important” by roughly four-fifths of all those taking the survey. A surprisingly low percentage (8%) reported that the desire to find a job and settle in the US after graduation was the most important factor in their decision to study abroad.

What if Indian Universities had US Faculty?

To try to retain some the more than $4 billion that Indian students are now spending on education abroad, and to increase domestic capacity to offer high-quality Higher Education (HE) to a greater number of Indian students, the government has proposed reforms to allow foreign universities to offer degrees in India. The IITs have also petitioned the HRD Ministry to allow them to hire permanent foreign faculty to help fill the estimated 40% shortfall in qualified professors needed to achieve the ambitious growth targets they have been set. With these reforms in mind, we asked respondents whether they would have preferred to study in India if they could have done so with US faculty: 21% indicated they would, while 35% preferred to go to the US, with the highest percentage (44) choosing “maybe”.

Desire to Return to India (Hint: money chart #1)

Nearly three-quarters of respondents (74%) plan to return to India eventually or had already done so (categories 1, 3, 4 & 6 in pie chart above). In contrast, only 8% of respondents said either that they preferred not to return; with half of these indicating they’d take any job they could to avoid returning.

Interest in Types of Careers in India

Three-quarters or more of respondents are interested in corporate jobs or entrepreneurship opportunities in India, and HE opportunities that offer the chance to do research are also very attractive. In contrast, teaching-only positions, which historically have constituted most of India’s HE sector, are not as attractive to the majority of respondents. While Master’s students are attracted to private-sector jobs in India, the vast majority of PhDs and Post Docs are most interested in pursuing positions that combine teaching and research in an Indian university (79% and 81% respectively) or research-only careers (64% and 76%).

The other encouraging finding for Indian policymakers is that 84% of those who have decided to return to India are potentially interested in HE careers. When asked which specific types of institutions they would find most attractive, not surprisingly the IIT/IIMs/and NITs topped the list, along with the National Institutes. Centrally funded universities were attractive to about half of all those interested in HE careers.

Key Factors Affecting Decision to Return

The most significant reasons individuals cited for wanting to return to India are family and a desire to give back to the motherland, while corruption, red tape, and the academic work environment were the strongest deterrents to returning, and instead remaining in the US. The study authors conducted a factor analysis to determine the underlying structure of individuals’ preferences on what is most or least important to them when deciding where to live and work. This analysis yielded natural grouping of 11 of the 18 items into four factors, eliminating the other seven that overlapped among 2 or more of the factors. These factors are shown in the table below (money chart #2):

Just one of these four factors – the desire to give back – is strongly associated with a desire to return to India. Quality of life and career factors are more mixed, but tend to be seen as more positive in the US, while “red tape” and “corruption” are what we label the major “hurdles” that need to be removed or at least addressed if institutions are to succeed in attracting the most able academics back to India.

The study authors also asked respondents to write in the most important factors that would lead them to go back to India. Confirming the results of the items on the -2 to +2 scale, nearly three-quarters indicated that family and giving back to the motherland were the key reasons they would return to India, while nearly half were keen to help build India’s HE system. These results shouldn’t surprise us. One proof point comes from Seer Akademi’s Srikanth Jadcherla (whom I interviewed a few months ago for this post). The winning argument for recruiting & retaining Seer Akademi’s US-based faculty (and have them conduct 4-6 hour interactive webex sessions with students in India) is simple – Do it for India!

(Closing note: The authors of the study also had some specific credible suggestions for reform of the Indian higher education system. My copy editor (err..that would be “me”) pruned that section from this post. It might well make it as a separate post in the future. If you are the impatient type, here’s the PDF link – if you enjoy statistics, regression and the like, the report has a ton of those details as well.)