FT : “Bihar Buffoon” Dazzles IIM-A Elites With Common Sense

Sunday, September 24, 2006

I don’t think fiction could conjure up a character as bizarre as Laloo Prasad Yadav.  This son of a cowherd, who led the unfortunate state of Bihar to near total ruin during his 15 year lawless reign, is now the subject of management and leadership case studies in globally esteemed institutions like Harvard and the Indian Institutes Of Management (IIMs).  Un-frickin’-believable, man !  Excerpts from the Financial Times article entitled “Bihar Buffon becomes top railway reformer” –

Laloo Prasad Yadav, India’s most notorious politician, is undergoing an unexpected transformation.  A man blamed for bringing “jungle raj” to the impoverished and lawless north Indian state of Bihar (Pakistan can have Kashmir so long as it takes Bihar too, one joke goes), has suddenly become the toast of reformers for his surprising success in overhauling the Indian railway system.  “The same network that an expert group declared in July 2001 to be on the edge of ‘fatal bankruptcy’ and stuck in a ‘terminal debt trap’ is now the second largest cash generator in the public sector,” Mr Yadav says in an interview.  Laloo – as India’s best-known low-caste politician is invariably known – has traditionally been a figure of fun for the urban elite though he leads the second largest party in the United Progressive Alliance coalition, the Rashtriya Janata Dal.  Just shy of his 60th birthday, he hams up his origins as a son of the soil, allows black hair to sprout in bushy clumps from his ears and always wears a dhoti, the tunic worn by villagers.  Cartoonists oblige by depicting the farmer-politician as a rural buffoon.  “As long as there’s aloo [potato] in your samosa, there’ll be Laloo in Bihar”, was long his catchphrase.  But his 15-year rule came to an abrupt end in 2005 amid accusations he had turned Bihar, one of the most efficiently administered states when India gained independence, into a byword for official corruption and economic despair.  His extraordinary 30-year political career seemed all but over.

When Laloo took over the railways in 2004, India, with its massive infrastructure deficit, seemed to be blowing its chance of integrating with global supply chains.  Today, it is a different story.  Ranked the government’s second best minister by India Today, Laloo this week took on a new public persona as a management guru and turnaround artist, wowing students in a televised seminar at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad.  “This is the just the trailer,” says Sudhir Kumar, Laloo’s right-hand man in the ministry.  “The film is about to start.”  This year, Mr Kumar says, the ratio of operating expenses to revenues will fall to 78% from 84% last year and 107% in 2001, thanks to straightforward measures that have radically improved utilisation of existing resources.  Students at the elite IIM-A, which has included a case study on the “turnaround story” in its postgraduate curriculum, said they were dazzled by Laloo’s charm and management approach.  Reforming a network that employs 1.4m people, and whose trains travel seven times the distance from earth to the moon every day, was more a function of “common sense” than management “miracle”, he told them.  The Laloo recipe is a bold play on volumes.  Laloo has avoided the political suicide of raising passenger fares, opting instead to reduce them to achieve better occupancy rates, while lowering marginal unit costs by lengthening trains.  Exit, too, Bradshaw, the legendary timetable laid down by the British: Laloo wants his trains soon to run at an exhilarating 100kmh, twice today’s stately chunter.  On the freight side of the business, which accounts for 70% of the network’s revenues and all its profits, Laloo has introduced round-the-clock loading that has reduced train turnaround times from seven to five days and increased the network’s loading capacity by 25%.  He has also ridden the commodities boom, jacking up prices for iron ore by as much as 60%. 

Some still have their doubts, pointing out that under his rule Bihar’s police, for example, had been so neglected they even lacked the ink and paper to register cases.  “This man was master of Bihar for 15 years, a state begging for basic governance, and he let it down badly.  Now, we are told, he’s turned around something as complex as Indian Railways in barely two years?” sniffed an editorial in the Financial Express.  Sceptics point to his irrepressible populism, evident in his decision to introduce earthenware cups instead of plastic ones on trains, and to his politically self-serving location of a new rail coach factory employing 5,000 people in the constituency of the Congress party president Sonia Gandhi in Uttar Pradesh.  By and large, though, a department with a massive procurement budget has so far been free from the corruption scandals that blighted his record in Bihar.  Mahesh Rangarajan, a political analyst, says the urban elites underestimate Laloo at their peril: “The buffoon act in Bihar was Laloo speaking in the idiom of rural lower castes: it was political theatre from a sharp politician with a master’s in political science.  Laloo wants to be prime minister one day and is showing the business community he’s a man they can do business with.  Railways are a logical place to start.”

Reference : http://www.ft.com/cms/s/d1963f8c-4a9f-11db-8738-0000779e2340.html

8 Responses to “FT : “Bihar Buffoon” Dazzles IIM-A Elites With Common Sense”

  1. JBW Says:

    “earthenware cups instead of plastic ones on trains”

    He’s got me man! I had one of these on my Kolkata-Jamshedpur trip. You don’t get this on Jet Airways!

    Seriously, this is an extraordinary story. Maybe we could do a U21G podcast with him 😉

  2. MMM Says:

    The earthenware cups are better environmentally although I doubt that was his intention. Also, I suggest an audio podcast, as our high res video would capture the black hair sprouting “in bushy clumps from his ears” 🙂

  3. daddyto3 Says:

    Sounds like this guy would get along well with Chee Soon Juan

  4. Rohit Says:

    East or West Bihar is the Best…

  5. […] 2001 an expert declared that Railways will be bankrupt by 2015 unless privatised. It was making huge losses and was expected to make US$15.4 billion loss by 2015. […]

  6. […] 2001 an expert declared that Railways will be bankrupt by 2015 unless privatised. It was making huge losses and was expected to make US$15.4 billion loss by 2015. […]

  7. […] 2001 an expert declared that Railways will be bankrupt by 2015 unless privatised. It was making huge losses and was expected to make US$15.4 billion loss by 2015. […]

  8. […] 2001 an expert declared that Railways will be bankrupt by 2015 unless privatised. It was making huge losses and was expected to make US$15.4 billion loss by 2015. […]

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