‘A career in politics is like an entrepreneurial venture, a dream with an unknown outcome’: Rajeev Gowda of IIM Bangalore


Rajeev Gowda, Prof of Economics & Social Sciences, IIM Bangalore (Photo credit: Tejas Team, IIM Bangalore)

In a short interview with PaGaLGuY, Rajeev Gowda, Professor of Economics and Social Sciences, of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Bangalore, explains how management education can connect to a career in politics and and why women are seen in smaller numbers in both b-schools and in the political arena.

Is it a fact that youth in general do not want to enter politics since it is seen as a profession of the corrupt’?
Many people think that as a career, politics is not very accessible. This is true in a sense. The reality is that politics is a fulltime job that requires individuals to invest a lot of time, energy and money. While we take pride in India’s being the biggest democracy in the world, we live in denial of how much it actually costs to run a democratic system smoothly. One needs to have a lot of resources to campaign and run for elections. If we look at the dynamics of India itself, there are lakhs of voters that need to be approached and won over in order to move forward in a political career. Towards that end, candidates need to spend a lot of resources, whether it entails sending an SMS, a postcard or giving voters a call in order to whip up support.

In such a scenario, it is difficult for youngsters to enter the field. With money being an important factor, politics is automatically open to a lot of corrupt people, who happen to be the majority of people with the required resources. In addition, politics is an extremely risky career where despite spending a lot of resources one can never be entirely sure of the end result.

When we talk about MBA graduates in particular, they enter b-schools with the concept of a safe career with fat salaries. In addition, politics is not considered an ‘honourable’ career as opposed to a full time job, something that their diploma or degree is known to provide. It is difficult for MBA graduates to be adapt to the political scene because the traditional meaning of being a professional changes in politics. One needs to have an extremely thick skin to enter politics because there are a lot of hurdles, and this quality is also slightly hard to find in the youngsters of today.

Could a management degree turn out to help politicians?

While education is important, a good politician is not essentially defined by his MBA degree. A good education helps a politician understand the situation around him in a better manner and find apt solutions. However, a good politician is one who is sensitive and not apathetic towards the need of his city, country and the people around him. However, if we consider the advantages that an MBA graduate would have over other political aspirants, each candidate would bring something extra with regard to his specialisation. An MBA graduate is trained to be extra efficient and deal with the situations around him in a better manner. On the other hand, if you consider a typical political environment, politicians are not really bothered with efficiency in terms of filing reports or papers, making presentations and being organised.

Add an MBA with a specialisation in marketing. He would be able to create a better market in terms of attracting voters with his penchant of understanding the market needs. Through his qualification and training, he will be able to segment, position and brand the political party and the candidate in a way that would not have been possible otherwise. An MBA graduate with a specialisation in finance will have a better hold on the way a government handles its money. He would be able to track the trend of government borrowing, government spending as well as government contracting and make positive changes where and when required. Finally, with an MBA specialisation in human resources, a student is able to understand the behavioural pattern of people who enter the political parties, which would ultimately help keep the party functioning smoothly.

Essentially an MBA student is trained to function in the private sector whereas politics is part of the public sector where work is done for the ‘betterment of society’. Here instead of personal profit, the purpose is to create profits for the society. However, if the two are mixed, a positive outcome is sure to be expected.

Who do you think is the ideal MBA graduate to fit into a politician’s shoes?

Someone who is ready to shed his ego completely. For one, an MBA graduate needs to forget the airs of having an MBA degree from a prestigious b-school. He needs to remember that this is not a dynasty rule where an MBA degree is going to act as a stepping stone towards success. Politics requires people who are extremely open and ready to take on challenges. Typically, today the youth is so involved with their own lives that it is difficult to find someone who is ready to make that extra effort for the betterment of the society. When was the last time you heard a youth going to jail because he was fighting for a cause he believed in? When last was the middle class motivated enough to chant together against a cause that they believed in or were fighting against? The examples for the above questions come few and far in between.

Anybody, including an MBA graduate, needs to be absolutely sure of what he is aiming at when he thinks of joining politics. He needs to ask himself whether he wants fame, name and money or does he actually believe in the ideology behind becoming a politician and doing good for the society. Once he is able to find an answer, he will become the perfect or the worst candidate to enter politics.

Any suggestions on what political parties or b-schools can do to generate interest among youth to enter politics?

A few political parties have started providing internships which give the youth an idea of the kind of work needed. In addition, b-schools can start certain courses and add departments that would help students understand everything about the field of politics. I teach a course at IIM Bangalore that exposes students to marketing and government solutions. In fact, the new India: Women in Leadership course that we have started is a step in formalising the process of understanding the field of politics from a wider scope. The idea is that people need to have guts to enter politics. You are coming out of your comfort zone to work for a cause you believe in. Your gender does not matter, what matters is your dedication and belief in the field.

Few women enroll in b-schools. Fewer women also enter politics. Is there a connection?

The social factor in the country does play an extremely important role in the way a woman charts her career and life. While government schemes are improving the chances for girl education in the country, social pressures to get settled at a marriageable age still stands in the way of every girl achieving her dream. This is one of the major reasons that the ratio of girls against boys in b-schools is not balanced.

However, this situation is more rampant in certain sections of the society. If we look at the women from urban areas, a good number are now entering IT and engineering as compared to a few years ago. However, it is the social factor that is creating a barrier in their entry into b-schools. As soon as females finish their graduation, the pressure on them to settle down increases substantially. The number of females entering b-schools is rising today, albeit slowly.

If we look at politics, a large number of female candidates are entering the field. Our course India: Women in leadership is our attempt to provide an insight into the field of politics to women who are interested in entering the political arena. Since this is the first year of the course, we were looking at about 40-75 candidates. So far we have got almost 40 applications from a diverse backgrounds, including social workers, doctors and a few women who already have some experience in the political field.

The point is that women are getting active on every front and the field of politics is not immune to that social change. It is your drive and motivation behind that aspiration that will decide your fate in the field.

Any final advice to MBA students who wish to enter politics at a later stage?

There is no rush to enter politics. If you are already inclined to join politics, spend some time understanding how the field works and how individuals operate. On the other hand, if you are looking to enter politics as an individual candidate, first work and gather a capital amount. In the meanwhile, make yourself familiar with the field. Once you have gathered enough experience, knowledge and the money, nothing can stop you. A career in politics is like an entrepreneurial venture, where even though you do not know what the outcome will be, you want to enter it because it has been your dream.