Friday, July 19, 2013

How IIM came to Ahmedabad

How an IIM came to be located in then obscure and small-town Ahmedabad and not in Bombay (as it was then called) has been much written about. The automatic choices were the two leading industrial cities of the time, Bombay and Calcutta. The latter got an IIM, the first to be set up; a few months later in 1961, the second IIM came up, not in Bombay, but in Ahmedabad.

The official version (which I have reported in my book on Ravi Matthai- IIMA) is that Bombay University dragged its feet over the idea as it not comfortable with an autonomous institution within its fold. Vikram Sarabhai, with the backing of industrialists in Ahmedabad, used his clout in government to claim the IIM for Ahmedabad.

In his memoirs (A book of memory), well-known pscyho-analyst Sudhir Kakar has a different story to tell. He contends that Sarabhai got an IIM created in Ahmedabad primarily in order to retain Kamla Chowdhry, an academic then working at ATIRA, with whom Sarabhai had a long and intimate relationship. (Chowdhry happened to be Kakar's aunt).

Chowdhry, Kakar says, began to get uncomfortable in the triangle that had Sarabhai and Mrinalini at the other two ends.  She began to toy with the idea of accepting an offer from DCM in Delhi which was similar to the work she was doing at ATIRA. Sarabhai "used every means at his disposal to persuade her to stay back in  Ahmedabad". He dangled the prospect of a directorship of a research centre on group dynamics, funded by an American foundation.

This didn't work out and three years later, Chowdhry envisaged a move to ASCI in Hyderabad or to Bombay University. This time, Sarabhai offered her a chance to work with a branch of UK's Tavistock Institute in Ahmedabad. This too did not happen.

Finally, as Kakar puts it, "To keep Kamla in Ahmedabad, Vikram Sarabhai successfully lobbied the Indian government to locate one of the two postgraduate institutions of management ....... in Ahmedabad rather than Bombay." Not only that, since Sarabhai and Chowdhry both had connections with Harvard, the original collaborator with IIMA, the University of California, came to be replaced by Harvard.

Kakar bases his narrative on the private papers of Chowdhry. The conclusion he draws is illuminating:
"The letters (from Sarabhai to Chowdhry) are also cautionary for any historian who still believes that decision-making in institutions, whether private or those of the state, is independent of the personality and the emotional needs of the actors, that the public record is sufficient to fully explain the course of a historical event......the location of the IIM at Ahmedabad rather than in Bombay and its collaboration with the Harvard Business School.... had as much to do with the demands of the relationship between Vikram and Kamla (if not more) as with the rational deliberations captured by the public record."


Ajeet Mathur, Chairperson, Centre for Gender Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity said...

Does anyone know or have any thoughts about why Kamla Chowdhury did not become an IIMA Director?

T T Ram Mohan said...

Ajeet, I make a reference to this in my book. Both the board and the faculty were divided on the issue of Chowdhry succeeding Sarabhai. HBS did not favour her on the ground that she lacked administrative ability. The striking fact is that she could not become director despite her proximity to somebody as influential as Sarabhai. That says something about the functioning of the IIMA board in those days.


Anonymous said...

Interesting. But what is your final say on it - was it the rapport b/w the two icons that created IIM 'A' or was it a rationale & objective decision?

T T Ram Mohan said...

Anonymous, It is for you and others to judge. I would imagine that the point that Kakar makes that these decisions are not always as rational as they are made out to be is valid.


Ajeet N. Mathur, Chairperson, Centre for Gender Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity, IIM Ahmedabad said...

I remember reading your explanation of why Kamla Chowdhuty didnt succeed Ravi Mathai but that still doesn't explain why she didnt become Director at the time Ravi Mathai was brought in. Did HBS object on grounds that HBS itself had never had a woman to lead their institution and were uncomfortable with it? That is a rumour that I have come across. Or was there something else that we are missing?

Jagdish Gangolly said...

I doubt gender was the reason. Lack of business experience might be the reason. K.T. Chandy was the director at IIMC and Ravi Mathai was a professor. Chandy was with Hindustan Lever, Mathai was with some firm in Calcutta (I do not remember). Mathai moved to IIMA the very year I started my PGP in IIMC. IIMC got the first academic as director only around 1974 or so when Jati Sengupta became director. I am jot sure about IIMA.