Now, boys, behave yourself; this is Yale, not Lok Sabha

Put them before a TV camera, and they are all busy plugging one another in the eye. One, therefore, wonders whether they should be heading for leadership training at an Ivy League university or a finishing school somewhere for learning good manners.

But the faculty at Yale are made of sterner stuff. Manish Tiwari of the Congress and Rajiv Pratap Rudy of the BJP may be landing verbal blows and showering invective on each other when in India, but both have been invited – along with 11 other political pugilists from seven parties — to attend a six-day leadership programme from June 16-25 at the Connecticut campus in New Haven.

Yale University

A total of 13 politicians have been invited to attend a six-day leadership programme from June 16-25 at Yale's Connecticut campus in New Haven. Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Having seen 60 members of Parliament pass through its portals since 2007, Yale should have known better. But, as they say, hope springs eternal in the human breast. There’s always the hope that the next lot of people’s representatives will be a jot better that the previous ones.

The programme, says Yale President Richard Levin, underscores “Yale’s long-standing commitment to educating our students for service and leadership. We have now gone a step further to include emerging and mid-career leaders.”

Levin apparently is not an avid watcher of Lok Sabha TV or Indian news shows. Or he is a strong believer that Yale’s reputation can withstand a few knocks from Indian black sheep. Without that belief, one doubts if he would be labelling MPs as “our students”. They haven’t ever been accused of having a nodding acquaintance with terms like “service” and “leadership.” One has also wondered about their “educability.”

But they are certainly “emerging and mid-career” leaders. From shouting matches in front of cameras, they can start breaking mikes in the Lok Sabha before moving on to even higher things like scams and labeling corruption crusaders as “fascists.” Not knowing what a stint at New Haven can do for mid-careerists in Indian politics.

The Yale programme, started in cahoots with Ficci, the Delhi-based apex industry organisation, and the India-US Forum of Parliamentarians, has processed 60 MPs so far. While one hasn’t seen much by way of an improvement in MPs’ standards, there’s no need to be cynical and think it’s all money down the drain.

“The programme will provide the parliamentarians with opportunities to critically think about the challenges of leadership and to explore freely, away from the legislative arena, the issues facing India,” Levin said.

Here the programme has certainly worked wonders. In the last two years, we have seen MPs move away from the “legislative arena” to Rajghat and yoga ashrams. They have been “freely” exploring what India needs, and returning to Parliament with bundles of “currency” notes (development needs money, after all).

They have also been critically thinking about “the challenges of leadership.” Ask BS Yeddyurappa. He had sequestered MLAs in distant places to see that no challenges to his leadership emerged.

Other parliamentarians learnt – even without the Yale programme — to ask the right questions in the Lok Sabha. For money, as it turned out later, but they did ask questions of real value to their financiers. Financial literacy certainly gets a leg up at Yale.

The programme, says Parliamentary Forum chairman Baijayant (Jay) Panda, “has been widely appreciated by those of us serving in politics. The presentations and discussions cover a range of topics and ideas, by and with some of the top academics in the world, and the setting is excellent for vigorous but non-partisan exchanges of views.”

One can understand this. New Haven is indeed a better place for interaction on the merits of civil society and uncivil government actions than Ramlila and Jantar Mantar.

“Yale University will help the parliamentarians in achieving a greater and more informed engagement in public policy discussions,” said Ficci Secretary General Rajiv Kumar.

We have seen that already even with those who didn’t attend Yale. The PM sent off as many as four ministers for “informed engagement in public policy discussions” with a yoga guru before bundling off to his alma mater at Haridwar.

“With some of the world-renowned experts of Yale, the parliamentarians get an opportunity to interact with them on a wide spectrum of global issues as well as on issues relating to leadership and management,” said Ficci President Harsh Mariwala.

Here’s where we have some confusion. We have seen a lot of “interaction” on “spectrum” but the Comptroller & Auditor General thinks it’s a scam. Maybe, the CBI sleuths should be sent to Yale for some re-education instead of sending innocents like Raja to jail.

While the public hasn’t noticed much by way of improvement in MPs’ standards, Ficci, at least, appears to think there is huge potential. Its last Secretary-General, Amit Mitra, saw the good Yale was doing to politicians and decided to become one himself. He is now Mamata di's Finance Minister in West Bengal.

Published Date: Jun 14, 2011 05:06 pm | Updated Date: Jun 14, 2011 06:46 pm