| Lalu Prasad with a visiting student at the rail museum in Delhi. Picture by Ramakant Kushwaha
New Delhi, Dec. 27: So much success at Rail Bhavan, but so little in Bihar — asked Harvard and Wharton, the A-team among B-schools.
If they had heard about the 8-plus per cent Indian growth story that’s making the impossible possible in many cases, they had forgotten.
Lalu Prasad — turned out today in customary white kurta-pyjama with a pullover to fight the Delhi winter — who’s now getting used to playing the management guru, offered his own explanation to Kunal Singh, an Indian student at Harvard Business School. Kunal had asked why he could not turn around Bihar in 15 years of rule while the railways had travelled from bankruptcy to Rs 13,000-crore surplus in 30 months.
“Lalu (Prasad) said Bihar needed an outside push. It had too many problems, while the railways had a lot of potential. It is like an empire,” Kunal later said.
Although Lalu Prasad has addressed IIM Ahmedabad students before, Harvard and Wharton are, well, Harvard and Wharton. And the 100 students from Harvard and 37 from Wharton threw a couple of hard ones at him.
Kunal, for instance, asked him if his business model was sustainable, wondering what would happen once he exited the railway ministry.
Neerja Shukla, a former student of IIM Ahmedabad who has heard him before, said: “Lalu did not speak in his characteristic way. He was more serious. In fact, it was his officer on special duty who explained the railways’ model.”
Those who are jealous of Lalu Prasad’s success say with the economy booming — the gross domestic product growing around 8 per cent and above — the railways would have done well even without management gurus.
“Guruji”, as Lalu Prasad is now calling himself, said he took up the “challenge” of making the railways profitable when it was mired in huge debts.
“We proved wrong economists who said privatisation and retrenchment was necessary to turn the railways around.”
The students spoke after the lecture at the National Rail Museum, most on condition of anonymity. A Japanese student from Wharton said: “I had heard about Indian Railways and its venerable minister. He came across as witty, charming, honest and dedicated.”
There never was much doubt about many of these qualities.
As Kunal had asked: will this success continue beyond him' “The railway is like a Jersey cow. If you don’t milk it fully, it will fall sick,” Lalu Prasad said.
The railways would sustain their profitability because they are “managed by professionals and not by IAS officers. And, I want it to remain like that”.
It doesn’t look like he’s planning to go anywhere else in a hurry. A Pakistani student asked about his prime ministerial ambition. “Woh plan (to become PM) pending kar diya hai... abhi to main jawan hoon,” Lalu Prasad said.
“Don’t go by my grey hair, I am still young. When a fruit (prime ministership) becomes ripe, it automatically falls.”