With the human resources ministry refusing to grant an extension to the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIM-A) Director Bakul Dholakia, the curtains have finally come down on what was probably one of the most controversial tenures of the head of any educational institution in the country.
Dholakia's exit as director (he will continue to teach at the IIM-A) comes at a time when the IIMs are once again battling for their autonomy, this time against a bill that, when passed, will make them answerable to Parliament.
A doctorate in economics from Vadodara's MS University, Dholakia was the dean at IIM-A from April 1998 to June 2001. His tenure as director, in October 2002, began quietly enough, and Dholakia used the time to create Brand IIM Ahmedabad.
Under him, IIM-A went from having 12 partner institutions for student exchange programmes to 50 by 2006-07. The icing on the cake was the one-year programme for management executives, and students in this batch got the highest salaries offered that year, right from the first batch itself.
But Dholakia's biggest success was managing to ensure IIM-A did not get hurt even when, in November 2003, the Common Admission Test (CAT) papers got leaked for the first time in the 43-year history of the IIMs. IIM-A, which was the co-ordinator for the exams, came under severe criticism but Dholakia insisted that there was no way the papers could have leaked from the IIM-A, and that is how the investigation got focused on the role of the printing press in Mumbai.
When the then HRD Minister Murli Manohar Joshi decided to ask the IIMs to cut their fees by 80 per cent, Dholakia opposed this, and as a mark of protest, he rejected the Rs 10 crore (Rs 100 million) grant IIM-A got from the ministry and made sure the institute became self-sufficient.
He was as eloquent with Arjun Singh when the latter became HRD minister, and tried to buy time on the issue of implementing quotas. There were times when it did look as if Dholakia had capitulated - when IIM-A said it could implement the quota policy a year ahead of schedule, for example - but it is difficult to say how much of this was Dholakia giving in and how much was dictated by the institute's governing council which was then headed by Infosys [Get Quote] chief N Narayana Murthy.
While Dholakia managed to stave off the ministry's interference to some extent, he was candid enough to say it wasn't enough. In his exit interview, he told a packed hall of mediapersons, that while his tenure was "satisfying", he would have been more satisfied had a proposal to the HRD to garner more autonomy for the institute come through.
With Dholakia out, the question is who will be the next IIM-A director - the shortlist includes G Raghuram, Samir Barua and Pankaj Chandra of IIM-A along with J Ramachandran of IIM Bangalore. And once the new director is in place, it would be interesting to watch whether he adopts a brand new style or whether he continues with Dholakia's tried and tested method.