60 kids from all over the country met Manmohan Singh and his wife at their residence for a candid talk for a special show on a news channel CNN-IBN.
Student: Sir, why do you speak so little?
Manmohan Singh: When you have a coalition government to run, there is no use in talking too much. And I think things get complicated when you talk more.
Student: Behind every successful man there is a woman. Did Ma'am play a role in your success?
Singh: Yes definitely, that is there for all to see.
Suhasini Haidar: Would you like to add something to it? You have three daughters also. There are so many strong women.
Gursharan Kaur: It is our good luck that we are there in his life. We are proud of him, and the children are also very happy. I can’t say what my role is... He has achieved success because of his hard work and dedication. We are with him.
Student: Sir, were you ever punished as a child?
Singh: I was punished... by my father. I recall that once my father had lost his watch and some money. They were taken away by some guest at my home, but my father suspected me. I got a thrashing from him, but later when my parents got to know that it was someone else they felt very sorry...
Student: How important is religion in your life?
Singh: Religion is very important because it is a source of values and I imbibe a lot of my value system from various Sikh teachings, which I was exposed to at a very early age. These teachings have left a very deep impact on my thinking process. Faith plays a very important role in smoothening tensions in one's life.
Student: Opposition calls you a weak PM while we think you are a strong PM. What do you think of this?
Singh: It does not make much of a difference to me. I think if I am doing something right, then my conscience will tell me that. To criticise is the Opposition’s job. I am not afraid of that.
Student: You are always seen in a blue turban. Do you like the colour blue?
Singh: I like the colour blue since childhood. I used to wear different colour turbans till 4-5 year ago but now I am used to wearing blue colour turbans.
Student: There was no electricity in your village. How difficult it was for you to complete your studies...?
Singh: Today’s children are fortunate that there is electricity in their villages. There is drinking water, there are roads and there are doctors. But when I was young I did not have shoes. We had to sit on the floor at school. We used to carry a bori to sit. We had only two rooms for primary school. Rains meant trouble for us. I used to study by a lantern in the evening. Still there are needs which we are trying to fulfill.
Student: Do you like singing?
Singh: I’m very fond of music and my wife is a very good singer. She used to recite the Gurbani when we were young. Apart from that I am also fond of other music like ghazals, especially by Mirza Ghalib.
Student: Government is working for those children who are in school. My question is what is it doing for those children who are not in school, who are living on roads, who are begging?...
Singh: It pains me a lot. We are trying to educate all children under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. We are increasing the purchasing powers of farmers under NREGA so that they send their children to school. We still have to do a lot in this direction.
Student: By removing 10th board examination, are you not making the children weak? You are shielding them from difficulties.
Singh: We are still debating on this issue. This is an experiment. We should not take a decision in haste
Student: Education was not so expensive for the earlier generations. Why is it getting costlier by the day?
Singh: Education is getting costlier as far as private schools are concerned but in government schools, every effort is being made to ensure that education doesn’t become a privilege for only the rich.
Student: Why is the government unable to stop the Maoists?
Singh: This is a difficult question. India is a country of great diversity and in rural areas particularly it is not possible for the law and order machinery to reach out and therefore, some people take advantage of this and indulge in anti-social activities. This is one reason. The other reason is that some people are induced to join the ranks of Naxalites because the level of development they experience is inadequate and they feel that their lives are not getting better as compared to the rich and the super rich. That leads to alienation.
Student: I want to be a leader like you. What idea would you like to give me?
Singh: I would like every child in our country to grow up in an atmosphere where his or her capabilities can find a way in some kind of creative values... I would like our children to grow up into adulthood, confident that they can take up any job that they like.
Haidar: How does an aam aadmi become a prime minister?
Singh: I am an aam aadmi. If I can become the prime minister, then so can you. I come from a very ordinary, lower-middle class family. It is because of my education that I am what I am...
Student: Why do Indians win the Nobel Prize after they leave India?
Singh: In India we don’t have an atmosphere where much importance is given to people who can think out of the box. The trend of questioning things has not been a part of our education system...
Student: Do you have an Orkut, Facebook or an email account?
Singh: I don’t... but I am told the details about what the Prime Minister is doing are available on my website.
Student: Which is your favourite sweet dish?
Singh: Suji ka halwa.
After the students got the answers to their questions, it was the Prime Minister’s turn to ask questions. Here is what he asked and the responses he got.
Singh: How do you feel about the environment in which you are being educated and the health care facilities
available to you in school or out of school?
Student: My school in Delhi is well-equipped and has all the required... facilities, but I don’t think schools in rural areas have these primary facilities.
Singh: The government has introduced the National Health Care Mission... and we hope in years to come things will improve in the most distant areas of the country.
Haidar : As it is Children’s Day today, please tell us how you met Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
Singh: I met him once in my life when I was a teacher in Panjab University and Pandit Nehru had come to address the convocation... I think it was in 1962 and it was a most moving experience for me because he used to talk to anyone who had the courage to walk up to him. It was the life wish of many to touch Pandit Nehru’s hand but his security forces would not let that happen. That was the first time that I got to see him.