[Assam] Profile on Shantikam Hazarika ---by Mitra Kalita

xourov pathok xourov at yahoo.com
Thu May 24 06:52:46 PDT 2007


Hazarika: Promoting the East, this man tells its youth to go west

Assam credit Hazarika with offering youth the first signs of hope in a long time
S. Mitra Kalita

                                                   New Delhi


Guwahati: Shantikam
Hazarika says he was on the fast track. The graduate of the Indian
Institute of Management-Ahmedadabad could actually picture himself in
the managing director’s seat of Oil India Ltd (OIL). In 1979, he was
despatched to Norway for three months of training. 

returned to Dhuliajan before the new year, just in time for the first
fatality of thousands more to come in the infamous Assam agitation, a
movement partly defined by a people’s desire for control over and
higher royalties from their natural resources—including oil.

“Tej deem, tel nideeu!”
(we’ll give you blood, but not our oil) protesters chanted through the
streets in between slurs on then-prime minister Indira Gandhi. 

fleetingly, Hazarika faced a quandary between the soil that had given
him life and the oil that gave him livelihood. His sympathies lay with
the former, but he assured his bosses it wouldn’t affect his
professional performance. 

Impossible, he recalls they said,
eventually sending him on a punishment transfer to Bhubaneswar. Two
years passed and Hazarika returned home to help set up the Assam
Institute of Management (AIM) and serve as its director. By then, the
Assam Accord had been signed, and hopes brimmed for a return to
normalcy and a flood of investment. 

Two decades later,
Hazarika sits in his office at the institute he’s created and
matter-of-factly laments what has actually happened: “This state is
doomed. I’ll be 60 in a few months and I don’t think I’ll make an

Those who know him—and in tight-knit, insular Assam,
that is a lot of people—disagree, crediting Hazarika with offering
youth the first signs of hope they have seen in a long time. That’s
significant as sectors from airlines to retail to business process
outsourcing (BPO) look to regions such as this one to provide manpower
in a growing economy. And so Hazarika has become the man many turn to
to help make their escape from bandhs, bombings, from home. 

tentacles extend far beyond the dingy halls of the institute to
encompass the entire country, as he lures recruiters, friends and
fellow IIM graduates in the position of hiring, assuring them of a
large pool of employable high performers in the Northeast. To keep
himself honest, he hustles to ready students before their interviews
and challenges them to think for themselves, outside of the box, like
the leaders they could be. 

For many people eyeing
development and recruitment in the Northeast, from companies to
non-governmental organizations, Hazarika has become a first point of
contact, a translator, negotiator, navigator. The barriers to operating
in this conflict-plagued region go far beyond language and cultural
differences, entrenched corruption and weak infrastructure. The
Assamese possess an entirely different mindset, Hazarika maintains.

“Here, we don’t teach
people to stand on their own two feet,” he says, rueful again. “I call
it the dependency culture. It is the biggest stumbling block to
development out here,” he adds.

Earlier in the day, Hazarika
cruised down a newly constructed national highway, planned for more
than a decade, but hastily paved in time for the 2007 National Games
held in Guwahati. The scene on either side of him mixes old and new:
temples and brick-making factories, tennis courts and a sleek-looking
athletes village. Around are the hills that form the bowl that is
Guwahati, lushness occasionally interrupted by brown patches of
presumable development. 

“It’s difficult to make things
happen out here. Business development is taking place,” Hazarika says.
“But most of it has not been well planned.”

Upon arrival at
his office just after 10am, the visitors were already waiting, phone
messages stacked up—the previous day AIM had announced its admission
list. Nearly 160 had applied and about 50 received an offer in the
first round. From a former chief minister’s phone call to a slight man
arguing his daughter’s case in person, it seemed everyone was making a
plea on behalf of the rejected. Hazarika, though, commented on those
overwhelmingly absent: applicants themselves. 

“This man is
coming for his daughter,” Hazarika says, after the father had left. “I
would have been more impressed if she came. They are 29, 30 years old
and still relying on their fathers and uncles to help do something for
them. This is a big Assamese trait.”

Hazarika was born the
same year as India—1947. Just as partition required reflection and
redefinition, the agitation through the 1980s and its after-effects
today have forced the same once again of denizens from a state
connected to the rest of India through geography described as a
“chicken’s neck”. In reality, it might be far more tenuous. 

he came home, Hazarika studied and worked across India and was struck
by a different work ethic, one rooted in entrepreneurship and survival.
He graduated from the Birla Institute of Technology & Science in
Pilani and then received his MBA with the sixth IIM-A class of 1971; a
class reunion photo shows him standing next to ICICI Bank Ltd chief
executive K.V. Kamath. 

“I have got a good network,”
Hazarika says, the first self-complimentary thing he’s said in the
interview. Modesty might, too, be an Assamese trait. 

the plummet his career trajectory took as a result, Hazarika lauds the
agitation for its intentions, not the greed-motivated United Liberation
Front of Assam (ULFA) of late. Initially, the Assamese protested the
mass migration of Bangladeshis, Biharis and others. This evolved into a
movement demanding more investment and attention from the Centre. 

“Agitation has changed the mindset,” he says. “People started becoming vocal, reading, speaking out.”

his transfer, Hazarika says he realized his dream of becoming MD was
over and that the next 20 years would be “highly frustrating”. OIL said
it could not comment because its human resources (HR) director was
“Instead of trying to be somebody, why not do something?” Hazarika asked. 

The Assam government
had been trying to fashion a management institute and tapped Hazarika,
who had sat on the state electricity board, to found it. The institute
operates as a society with a governing board formed by the Assam
government. Some professors also double as consultants drafting reports
for the public and private sectors; a recent one, for example, examined
the death of cinema halls in upper Assam and was used to support a tax
decrease on entertainment. 

AIM’s annual report shows it
generated just over Rs140 lakh last year, mainly from government aid
and tuition fees. In July 2009, a new, larger campus is scheduled to
open, doubling seats to 120.

On the dry-erase board behind
his desk, Hazarika—married to a teacher with a dance school and father
of two sons, one in the Army, another in the Air Force—has scrawled
some of his admittedly borrowed philosophies on life, business,

“The only thing necessary for evil to flourish is for good men to say nothing,” says one.

of the youth at the institute were born after the agitation began, in
some cases even after the accord was signed in 1985. Whether their
futures should rest in the state or outside has been a contentious
question for some time now, similar to the “brain drain” debate with
which India as a nation grapples. Hazarika minces no words. 

like to do something for this state. I don’t have any expectations of
this generation,” he says. “It is such a negative world they are
growing up in. BPOs, hospitals, stewards, the thing is, where are these
opportunities in the Northeast? If they don’t go out, they will be the
social nuisances… Once you go outside the state, your desire to do
something intensifies.” 

The sentiment applies to Indrani
Mahanta, a 24-year-old recent graduate looking for a job in HR. Last
summer, Hazarika used his contacts to help her land a summer internship
at Essar Oil Ltd in Mumbai. “As I have specialized in HR, there are no
such jobs in Assam. If you want to enter the corporate role, one must
go out from the Northeast,” says Mahanta, a botany major in college.
“We are doing MBAs for jobs.”

Assam’s unemployment rate, among educated urbanites, tops 14%, nearly double the comparable figure for the rest of India. 

Mahanta lauded Hazarika’s help and teaching, the young woman says she
wishes other faculty were more up-to-date on current business trends
and the Indian business climate of today, focusing more on practical
application than theoretical knowledge. 

Agreeing this
should happen through students’ exposure, Hazarika might place calls to
members of his network and ask if two summer interns can be
accommodated or perhaps if a recruiter can’t make it East, can a
student passing through Mumbai please stop by instead. He advises a
professional mentoring group of colleges and institutes across the
seven sister states on how to gain access to potential recruiters to
hold joint placements. On a recent morning, the slacks-and-chappals
clad Hazarika attended an awards ceremony for an initiative to employ
disabled workers in tea and spice packaging and then dropped a visiting
official from the Delhi arm of the Association for India’s Development,
a volunteer organization, at a school for tribal and disadvantaged

“This is all related to corporate issues. Their main motive is to
make students aware of corporate and social sector, how corporations
are affecting the overall transformation of society,” says Pratul
Kalita, a faculty member at the institute. “Mr Hazarika, as the
founder-director of the institute, these are basically his ideas. He
comes up with a lot of ideas,” Kalita adds.

As Hazarika described support for the Northeast as India’s latest tamasha,
filled with empty promises made at summits and conferences, a knock at
his door yielded a young woman who wanted to pursue her MBA. But she
was torn because she had gotten a job at HSBC Bank in Kolkata. 

“You have a job in hand and you don’t want to take it?” Hazarika says. 

“But it’s BPO,” she says. 

“So what?” he says. “Prove yourself there. Come see me in four years.”

The woman looked hesitant.

“You’ve got to learn to stand on your own two feet,” Hazarika says. “Go.”

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