The Prime Minister usually does not entertain such requests but made an exception for Keval Singh, his favorite nephew. “Only you can knock some sense into my son, Mamaji,” Keval had pleaded the other day over the phone,“The boy is just not serious about his studies. Keeps claiming that he will eventually become Prime Minister of India and doesn’t see the need to get a degree. Can you please spare some time and have a conversation with him on the importance of education to become a technocrat? It’s his make or break final year in school, you see.”
“Ok, come over for lunch tomorrow to 7, Race Course. I’ll have a pep talk with my namesake,” replied Dr. Singh.
It would have to be another of those ‘inspirational speeches’, he remarked to himself. Perhaps he would start with how as a child growing up in dusty Gah in West Punjab, he had studied under street lights and overcome incredible odds to make his mark in academia and the bureaucracy, before getting catapulted to the top echelons of power. And then dwell on his mastery of abstruse economic theory that enabled him to steer the economy to safety during the 1991 crisis. Hopefully, the boy wouldn’t ask awkward questions about his current job.
Keval’s son had been named after the Prime Minster in the hope that he would follow in his grand-uncle’s illustrious footsteps. However, he was anything but a chip of the old block. The boy abhorred studies, preferring to while away his time with friends in idyllic pursuits. With a middling academic record, predilection for petty politicking, and a boisterous personality, Mannu’s personality was the diametric opposite to the self-effacing, erudite, and reticent ways of his grand-uncle. But his dad had more pressing concerns at the minute such as whether the boy would even clear his boards and get admitted to a decent college. And after that, any salaried job would be good enough. But the boy suffered from delusions of making it big like his grand-uncle. And he seemed to be steeped in mediocrity, much to his dad’s consternation.
“So you want to become Prime Minister like me, Mannu?” began Dr. Singh, after the customary pleasantries. “For that, you must first and foremost get into a reputed college, beta. Then go on to do a PhD in Economics from a world renowned university, preferably Oxford, so as to develop the intellectual base for crafting economic and public policy.”
“But I already know what it takes to economically administer the country, sir. Why do I need a fancy doctoral degree for that?” retorted the boy. “And please call me Mac, not Mannu.”
“Er..and how would you do that?” asked the Prime Minster, clearly taken aback by the boy’s brashness.
“Oh it is trivial. 1) Impose fiscal discipline 2) Reform taxation 3) Liberalize interest rates 4) Raise spending on health and education 5) Secure property rights 6) Privatize state-run industries 7) Deregulate markets 8) Adopt a competitive exchange rate 9) Remove barriers to trade 10) Remove barriers to Foreign Direct Investment,” the boy rattled off in one breath, as though it were a mantra.
His dad shook his head. “In addition to not taking his studies seriously, he recites gibberish like this to impress people. Mamaji, tell him what it takes to run the..”
“Er..actually he’s right,” interrupted the PM. “The steps he outlined constitute what is known in policy circles as the Washington Consensus. A wish-list of 10 economic policies that the IMF imposes on countries seeking a bail-out. Received wisdom from the high priests of free market enterprise, you see,” he drawled in his robotic voice, smiling sheepishly.
The boy gave a ‘see, I told you so look to his dad’ and shrugged nonchalantly. “I memorized it from a Dr. Arindam Chaudhury talk I had recently attended,” he said.
“But wait, you still need to be able to talk intelligently about it in a manner that even you can’t understand what you are saying. You will need a fancy degree to equip you with the necessary economic jargon,” the PM retorted, attempting to regain lost ground.
“Oh, I’ve already sounded out Jonty to head the Planning Commission to take care of all the policy wonkish work. The guy takes after his uncle, Monty, and is all set to go to Oxford to develop a nice, clipped accent,” answered Manmohan junior. “That will give me time to focus on real politics…arranging the numbers, quid pro quo deals, managing the CBI…in other words, the pursuit of policy objectives as opposed to the sterile design of policy. And of course, focus on getting elected.”
Manmohan Jr’s father was a worried man now. This conversation was not going according to plan.
“You fool,” he interrupted, turning to his son. “You think becoming a statesman is a joke? It requires phenomenal leadership skills, the nous to take people along with you, the demagoguery to rally a nation and shape people’s expectations. And you need oodles of charisma, for good measure. Tell him,na, Mamaji,” Keval trailed off, expecting his uncle to pick up the thread.
No response was forthcoming as Dr. Singh appeared clearly discomfited about the direction this discussion was taking.
“Er…yeah, those traits are also quite important,” he mumbled. “But it’s also about impressing important people, Mannu, I mean Mac. For that, you must have sound academic qualifications,” he said, steering the discussion towards safer territory.
“Oh, I’ve already lined up my political benefactor,” said the boy smugly.
“Pray, who might that be?” asked Dr. Singh.
“Why, Rahul baba’s nephew and Priyanka’s son, Rehan Vadra Gandhi, of course. He and I are bum-chums and he’s promised to make me Prime Minister after he becomes Congress President eventually.”
The PM’s eyes nearly popped out of their sockets as soon as he heard these words. He got up and began clapping in awe, in acknowledgement of the precocious lad’s sound political instincts.
“This boy knows exactly what he is doing, Keval,” he said, turning to his nephew, “and I see no reason why he can’t become the Prime Minister of this country. If I were you, I would leave him to his own devices.”
Keval stared back at the Prime Minister, dumb-struck.
“Theek hai?” said the Prime Minister, signaling the end of pep-talk, and scurried out of the room.