At PanIIT Global Conference Arjun Malhotra Argues IITians Make Excellent Leaders

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Kolkata, India – Does cracking the IITJEE make one an IITian? What exactly are the leadership qualities that an IITian possesses? Do they have soft skills? Are they born leaders or do they have leadership thrust upon them? Participants badgered each other with these questions at a debate on “IITians make poor leaders” on Day 1 (Dec. 7) of the PanIIT Global Conference 2012 at the Science City Auditorium in Kolkata.

 Four senior alumni – Arjun Malhotra, Charanpreet Singh, Debdas Sen and Prithwis Mukherjee – took on each other with the help of present day students in a debate that often left the audience in splits.

 Mukherjee, an IIT professor now, asked how many professors at IITs now are worth emulating, adding that it just does not exist in the management mechanism. “So how will IIT produce good leaders? IITians are exam-cracking machines. Not good leader material,” he quietly dropped the bomb in his opening speech.

“Leaders are political and rich. No IITian can meet their standards of richness. So IITians make ‘poor’ leaders,” he joked.   

IIT Kharagpur alumnus Malhotra countered with: “Leader is one who is intelligent (other than political), hard working and ambitious (want to get into an IIT) and have high frustration tolerance especially if you are from India.”

To prove his point he highlighted the practice of arranged marriages which are so prevalent in the Indian society. “The biggest decision we take is with very little data and a lot of teamwork – arranged marriage,” he said to much laughter.

And about a leader needing to see the big picture? “We indulge in theology, teen patti (a card game)… not aggressive but what you see if what you get. That’s the best thing for a leader,” Malhotra said evoking fond memories in many among the audience some if whom were heard recalling “those hostel days.”

IITians can ace an exam but cannot walk out and get a date for themselves, proclaimed Charanpreet Singh. “They cannot manage half the population. The atmosphere is gender non-diverse,” he said, drawing attention to critical issues like the increase in the number of student suicides and the huge uproar over the suggestion to change JEE.

“Unlike foreign universities, IITs want the best people to walk in  so that even if they don’t do anything, they are still the best,” he said. The IIT tag, according to Charanpreet, makes students “hoop jumpers, lacking soft skills.”

While the suicides are a concern, they are statistically insignificant, said Debdas Sen (97 batch IIT Kharagpur) brushing suicide reports aside. “IIT is where you make first choices of leaving your parents and sitting for that exam. Leaders make choices,” he declared. And the tag, he said, provides an identity. “IIT is a fantastic place to groom leaders of future,” he said.

 “IIT gives you charisma to begin with. It teaches you to expect from yourself, be ambitious and deliver,” announced IIT Roorkee’s fourth year student Saily Rane who spoke against the motion.

Although not part of the debate team, IIT Kharagpur alumnus Ashfaque Ali says: “The majority are poor decision makers. They take too much data into account and are too democratic. They can’t think on their feet.”

That sums up the indecisive debate quite nicely. 

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