When a person trusts you to this extent, it can drive you crazy

The Indian Railways turnaround is a remarkable story both for the sleeping giant and its keeper railway minister Lalu Prasad. The
story of the makeover has been often documented. But now, officer on special duty, Haryana-born Sudhir Kumar, the backroom architect of that stunning turnaround, tells the story in his book, Bankruptcy to Billions, released on Saturday at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

The 50-year-old IAS officer says he has no tricks up his sleeve that helped the railways leap into the company of Fortune 500s. ‘‘But as a baniya with a family in business for generations, I know how to make money. Tons of it,’’ says Kumar. Unfazed by the railways’ unenviable legacy, the first thing Kumar did in 2004 was throw convention out of the window. The many ‘expert’ solutions of corporatization, tariff regulation and privatization — he calls it the as World Bank approach — had one fundamental flaw. It rejected political mandate. ‘‘But that is an integral part. Don’t confuse it with political interference. You have to respect the political mandate, the social calling card. No textbook recipes would work.’’

On his part, Lalu gave him a free hand, says Kumar. His intention to make a difference was clear. From day one, Lalu invested in Kumar’s integrity, having seen him in action after the creation of Jharkhand from Bihar. At the time, Kumar was brought in as sales tax commissioner as Bihar was set to lose more than half its sales tax revenue to the new state. Kumar’s job was to ensure Bihar’s sufficient tax base was restored. The job was done in 30 months.

When Lalu became rail minister he wasted no time in bringing Kumar to his side. ‘‘When a person trusts you to this extent, it can drive you crazy. That kind of trust can push you to self-actualization,’’ says the 50-year-old in all humility, allowing himself a hint of a smile.


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