Prime Minister Narendra Modi turned teacher for a day on Friday, chatting with an auditorium full of schoolchildren and teachers, sharing his vision of education and, through it, nation building, and making them smile with anecdotes from his childhood.
He also took questions from the 1,000 Delhi students who had packed the Manekshaw Centre for the Teachers’ Day programme and from many more across the country who’d tuned in via video conference.
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“Your style conveys the image of a headmaster. Are you tough like a headmaster or are you sweet,” asked a girl in the crowd. “I am a taskmaster. I work hard and extract hard work from others,” the PM replied as millions of students watched him on TV in their schools and homes.
Most schools in the Capital, and elsewhere in the country, had made it mandatory for students to be present for the live broadcast of the PM’s speech.
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Modi exhorted students to become responsible citizens, wondered why they weren’t interested in becoming teachers, thought aloud about India becoming a country that exports teachers. Urging the young to work and play, he said, “You should play and sweat a lot, at least four times a day. Promise you will do it.” He added, “Keep the child in you alive.”
Asked if he’d played pranks as a boy, the PM spoke about tempting shehnai players with tamarind to make their mouth water and stapling the clothes of couples at weddings.
When a boy from Imphal asked him what he had to do to become PM, he responded, “Start preparing for the 2024 elections… at least till then I am safe.”
Going back to a recurring theme, he spoke of the importance of educating girls, and building toilets for them in schools to stop them from dropping out. To a student from Port Blair, he said, “Serving the nation does not only mean doing grand things. Doing small things is a big service too. Remember to switch off the fan in your room when you leave, to turn off the taps as you brush your teeth, to keep your things tidy. It is these small things that help build a clean nation.”
When a visually impaired girl asked if he had ever thought he would one day become prime minister, he said, “I never even contested the election to become class monitor.”
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Live Blog Modi's Teachers' Day speech
Recalling his visit to Japan just days ago, he said, “They (students and teachers) have a tradition of cleaning classrooms together. Why can’t we have that here?”
With the mass contact programme, which ran for over 90 minutes, the PM achieved two purposes — lifting the profile of Teachers Day, as he had promised, and reaching out to a new constituency comprising students, teachers and parents. After wrapping up, he met with students, shaking their hands, asking if they had enjoyed the interaction and whether they would remember what he’d told them.
The Opposition Congress wasn’t impressed. Spokesman Salman Khurshid said the cause of teachers still had not been adequately addressed. He also made light of Modi’s answer that he would remain PM for 10 years, saying, “He has only said this to children… Who knows what fate has in store for him five years or five months down the line.”
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