PM vetoes women's IIT - Name comes in way of President's suggestion

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  • Published 19.08.08

New Delhi, Aug. 18: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has vetoed a proposal by the President to set up an all-women IIT named after Indira Gandhi. The proposal had earlier been accepted by education minister Arjun Singh.

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has written to Arjun’s human resource development (HRD) ministry that any gender-specific IIT would hurt the premier engineering schools’ brand and cannot be accepted, top government officials said.

However, fears of sparking a controversy by naming an Indian Institute of Technology after the former Prime Minister may have been a key reason for the rejection of the proposal, a PMO official involved with education said.

None of India’s premier educational institutions — such as the IITs, Indian Institutes of Management, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and central universities — are meant for students of only one gender.

Nor is any of the existing IITs named after any individual, and the institutes have in the past told the government they are opposed to any such move.

President Pratibha Patil wanted the all-women IIT set up in her former Lok Sabha constituency, Amravati.

In a letter to Arjun’s ministry on March 7, the President’s secretariat had suggested the site in drought-prone Vidarbha, where several farmers have committed suicide over the past few years. The letter also suggested naming the IIT after Indira Gandhi.

Early in June, Arjun had approved the President’s proposal. An internal human resource development ministry note dictated by Arjun said an all-women IIT named after the late Prime Minister could be set up during the current Eleventh Five Year Plan.

The Centre had by then already announced plans to set up eight new IITs during the plan period. In the note, Arjun suggested the women’s IIT could be the ninth.

But still smarting from allegations of sycophancy towards the Nehru-Gandhi family — Arjun had in May pitched for Rahul Gandhi as a possible candidate for Prime Minister — the HRD minister sought Manmohan Singh’s approval for the proposed institute.

“Officially, we have told the HRD ministry that an all-women IIT would be contrary to the spirit and concept behind these institutes. But the name was also a major concern for us,” the PMO source said.

The government’s decision to name the seventh Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Shillong after Rajiv Gandhi has also sparked strong opposition — both from the IIMs and from the Meghalaya government. Earlier this year, the Meghalaya Assembly passed a resolution against the Centre’s decision.

With just months left for the general election, the Prime Minister does not want to attract fresh controversy over a name, the source said.

“But once the President’s proposal became public, dropping the name but continuing with the all-women IIT would have been politically impossible,” the source said.

Dropping the proposal altogether was the only possible solution, the PMO source said.