Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Lalu shares wisdom with Harvard,Wharton Pupil

Abhi to hum jawan hain. Baal pak jaane se kya hota hai (I am still young. Don’t read too much into the grey hair).” With these lines, as he concluded his hour-long interaction with 137 students from Wharton and Harvard Business School, Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav today announced that he had put his Prime Ministerial ambitions on hold for the time being.

“Everybody wants to rise to the top position in their respective fields. I would become the PM one day, but not now. I have put the matter in the pending list for now,” he said.

But the session with the students was a no-holds barred one with Lalu taking the opportunity to not only take a dig at his opponents, but also venting his views on a range of issues, with the Great Indian Railway turnaround story as the reliable background. As expected, the metaphor of “properly milking the jersey cow so as to make sure that she doesn’t fall sick” in the context of Railways did find it’s way into his address.

Narrating the makings of the turnaround in Hindi laced with a bit of English here and there, Lalu’s address boiled down to this advice: “Wherever you go, whichever top positions you may hold, work with honesty, dedication and determination. Take your employees and officers into confidence. Treat them like your family, not like bureaucrats.”

However, Lalu, it appeared, was prepared for the inevitable question. When a Harvard student asked him about his 15-year long rule in Bihar wherein the state’s condition did not change, Lalu replied, “Bihar was discriminated against by Delhi. The per-capita investment was negligible, particularly in infrastructure sector, as compared to other states. Then there were problems like floods and Naxalism. Till we were there, my opponents ensured that no money was given to Bihar. But I don’t discriminate. Now, my younger brother Nitish Kumar is there. We help him. If I was guilty of not developing the state, why doesn’t he deliver on his promises in five years?”

Asked how significant were the corruption-related issues, whether perceived or actual, in his ministry and how he addressed those challenges, Lalu said people in his ministry were very intelligent and they watched their master. He went on to add that since he was the man at the top, he had to lead by example.

“I even asked the Prime Minister to ask IB and other intelligence agencies to monitor Railways to see if anything wrong was going on,” Yadav said adding that those indulging in corrupt practices were handled through surprise checks and suitable punishments.

On the kind of support he got from the Railway Board, Yadav said, “The biggest achievement of the Board is that IAS officers have not been able to penetrate it so far. All the people in the Board are technical people. And it is good if IAS people don’t come to the Board. I have full confidence and cooperation of the Board and I treat them like a family. Keymen, gangmen, coolie are like my brothers.”

Asked about the future of Indian Railways if he ceased to be the minister, Yadav said: “Whether I remain as Railway minister or not, nobody will be able to reverse the processes we have begun.”

The group of foreign students, probably under instructions of the ministry, were not too keen to share their experiences. However, some of those who talked appeared to be in awe of the minister. While Simmons Jones from Harvard found Lalu “very charismatic, committed and impressive”, Rohan Haldea from Harvard said that “sustainability of this turnaround was yet to be seen”.

Earlier, Lalu’s OSD Sudhir Kumar left no stone unturned to sing the minister’s praises. “My minister’s only criticism is that he has too little time for Rail Bhawan and Railways. Nobody says he sits too much in the ministry, that he’s too busy doing politicking. That is the kind of leader you should be—that you are not there and still you are there and watching from a distance. So, when you have this kind of leadership, then you dispel the impression conclusively that nothing can change in government,” Kumar said going to highlight Lalu’s “rugged commonsense and rustic brilliance”.

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