New Delhi — Harvard and Wharton, America’s Ivy League schools, Wednesday got a most unlikely new teacher in Railway Minister Lalu Prasad as the cowherd-turned-politician held forth with typical élan on the “success story” of Indian Railways.
The classroom was set up in the National Rail Museum’s auditorium and Lalu Prasad, dressed in his traditional kurta pajama topped by grey pullover, had the students and their professors captivated as he narrated to a somewhat bemused but spellbound audience “A Turnaround Story” of the Great Indian Railways.
“I come from a very humble background having read English till eighth standard. But since childhood I was greatly inspired by Jawaharlal Nehru’s vision of Indian railways who rightly understood that this forms the most important part of the country’s infrastructure,” Lalu Prasad said in Hindi sprinkled with English words whose rustic pronunciation that often left his listener wondering what he really meant.
“When the responsibility of railways was given to me, it was in a state of bankruptcy,” he told the ‘class’, discussing the findings of the Rakesh Mohan Committee which had forecast that Indian Railways would go bankrupt soon.
There were 100 students from the Harvard Business School and 30 from Wharton with seven professors from both the institutions. They had come all the way to meet an Indian minister whom they had heard much about and who was responsible for crafting a great business success story of one of the world’s largest railway networks.
“The railways which was few years back not in a position to pay dividends to the government now boasts of a cash surplus of more than Rs.130 billion ($2.8 billion) in a short span of 30 months. This would take a quantum leap to Rs.200 billion by the end of current fiscal,” he said in his usual baritone, interspersed with his usual witticisms that made many of his interlocutors laugh politely even though many did not understand him.
Lalu informed the students: “Over the last 30 months, freight volumes have grown by 8-10 percent and similarly growth in passenger volumes has also been doubled.
“On the supply side, increase in axle load coupled with reduction in turnaround time of wagons from seven to five days has contributed to an incremental loading capacity of 170 million tones resulting in revenue of Rs.100 billion.”
The students were elated to meet their new teacher and listen to the “magical transformation” story of Indian Railways, as an American student said.
Yastten, a Japanese student from Wharton, said: “I have heard about Indian Railways and its venerable minister. I am very happy to see him in person and listening to him was a great pleasure.”
Kunark Singh, an Indian origin student from Harvard who was a native of Bihar, said: “I have lived all my life in India, my parents still live in Bihar and I have seen how ordinary people suffered while travelling in trains. A few years back I was one of them.
“Today Indian students like me are happy to have come here attend this class with Lalu Yadav and understand how we can return give back to the society.”