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Caste cloud on 'Super 30' of IIT-JEE

Aditi Phadnis  |  New Delhi 

As with everything in Bihar, a caste context is never hard to find. This has overtaken the abrupt closure of the Super 30 programme, a system of private coaching of socially and economically deprived children for the IIT Joint Entrance Examination (JEE).
Patna has been extremely proud of the Super 30, conceived by genius mathematician Anand Kumar five years ago under the auspices of the Ramanujan Society of Mathematics in Patna.
A passionate physicist and also an IPS officer, Abhayanand, discovered Kumar and helped his efforts to set up the programme, under which 30 exceptionally gifted children from deprived backgrounds were selected for totally free residential coaching over five to seven months to help them overcome their economic and caste handicap.
The programme was cross subsidised through parallel, paid coaching classes that Kumar and Abhayanand used to take. It was considered a gift for underprivileged castes, especially as Abhayanand was a Bhumihar.
After Nitish Kumar came to power, several who wanted to debunk the new regime sneered that it was rule of upper castes by proxy. Among these was cited the role of Abhayanand, considered a special aide of Nitish Kumar.
Although the Super 30 scrupulously refused all offers of economic help "" from political leaders including Nitish Kumar to economic giants like Anand Mahindra, the politics of patronage continued to dog it.
Meanwhile, a large number of Super -30-like coaching institutes sprang up all over Patna.
Abhayanand's rise was resented by several colleagues, especially those from the backward classes, and things came to a dramatic pass when three of the students who were part of the Super 30, including the topper, Pranav Prince, attended a function hosted by a rival coaching institute that claimed they had been students there as well.
They were also the part of a team that went to have tea with the chief minister.
This led to excited gossip in Patna that the Super 30 was not all that it appeared to be "" that in fact, it was a front for political aggrandisement by an upper caste bureaucrat.
When reporters spoke to Abhayanand, he made a brief statement saying he was shutting down the programme altogether as rivals were trying to defame him. When the three boys were contacted, they said they had never been students of the rival institute.
When contacted, Anand Kumar, the real brain behind the programme, said that it had only shut down temporarily and would resume once the media heat had died down.
Local sources say a clash of caste groups that are locked in a silent war for hegemony in the government has surfaced through the controversy: DGP Ashish Ranjan Sinha and ADGP (Headquarters) Abhayanand are the supposed representatives of the OBC and Bhumihar castes.
However, others say an education mafia is behind the controversy, out to besmirch Abhayanand's image sensing the big bucks that the demolition of the Super 30 programme will let loose in the market. Either way, as Anand Kumar told Business Standard, "In our country, caste enters everything".

First Published: Sat, May 05 2007. 00:00 IST