Tuesday, September 13, 2011
IIPM and New India: Interrogating Aspirations
I have just read the Siddhartha Deb's Sweet Smell of Success: How Arindam Chaudhuri made a fortune off the aspirations - and insecurities - of Indian Middle Classes. I had to read it from a blog, as the original article had to be taken down by the Caravan magazine which published it first after Arindam Chaudhuri sued them, and other miscellaneous companies, for publishing it.
It is somewhat ironic that the article has been taken down, because it is beautifully written. Mr Chaudhuri may not see this, but the article is as fair and as balanced one could be under the circumstances. Mr Chaudhuri is surely not an one-off: Arvind Adiga has already written about his kind of White Tigers. Mr Deb alludes to this, in a short reflective section somewhat buried under the burden of the fascinating narrative of Chaudhuri and his IIPM, and writes about the tension between the new, aspirational India and India of the old, as symbolized by the IIM kinds. This is possibly the key message of this essay, the understanding of the brash, pretentious, amateurish new India, as opposed to the powers that be.
As if to make the story come a full circle, Mr Chaudhuri has sued the magazine and the writer, all and sundry, and tried to kill the story. This somewhat shows how little he understands new media, though he prides himself to be a media entrepreneur, having dabbled in movie production for a while. He clearly did not understand that courts are powerless these days to kill any story, as the national laws can not control transnational nature of the media. The action also showed why Mr Chaudhuri is representative of new India: His insecurity, somewhat characteristic of a social climber, gets better of his judgement to face the truth.
Indeed, if Mr Deb is to be believed, and there is good reason to do so, Mr Chaudhuri runs some sort of an educational Ponzi scheme in IIPM, where new students pay for pseudo-jobs for older students, whose placement record is then touted to attract more new students. But, again, Mr Chaudhuri is not the only one who is doing this in India: Most Indian business schools are in the same business, or aspires to be in similar business. This is a sector in search of a regulator, which combines ultra-tough entry barriers for any outsider to enter, to maintain the privileges of the insiders to make hay. The sector is so profitable that most of India's corrupt politicians park their ill-gotten money in this business, and play the same game that Mr Chaudhuri is attempting to play. However, from his quixotic attempts to shut Mr Deb off the press, it seems that Mr Chaudhuri has started believing in his own spin, and being consumed by his own megalomania.
But, then, he may be fraud and a showman, but he can claim to be out there, seeking to play out in a sector where everyone else plays by proxy. From the essay, it seems he has surrounded himself with students et al, people overawed by his presence and without any critical perspective, a typical flaw in most charismatic leaders. But then, this is so common in Indian corporate circle that it is difficult to see why it is even a story item. Unless, of course, Mr Deb is threatening not Mr Chaudhuri but those around him, who would rather live insulated from any form of public scrutiny. Indeed, it does seem that Mr Chaudhuri has failed wholesomely on his public and press relationships, and mostly sees himself as a victim. But then this is very common among self-made entrepreneurs, where they sometimes think that world colludes to make them fail. But, again, Mr Chaudhuri, the management guru, should understand that it is time he gets a media coach of some sort and reinvent himself.
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