What NLC experiences showed me
When a nation dreams, when all its members become voluntarily involved in its realization, it is a momentous and historic experience. We can still...
Dreams of visionaries are never self-centered, they are motivated by a passion for uplifting the world or the nation. Some visionary leaders, like Jawaharlal Nehru, inspire all future generations, reach out through their writings, inject genuine national pride and true human values beyond boundaries.
I am indebted to him for being one of the most positive influences in my early political life. As the true architect of our country, he chose inclusive growth with proper utilization of nation's resources, both natural and human, and invested the nation's wealth so that the common man's knowledge and technical skills get ignited and their potential unleashed.
No wonder then that just as Stanford was established in a State where there were resources but low growth, Nehru instructed that the first IIT in our country be established not in the already affluent city of Calcutta but in the remote , underdeveloped part of Hijli, which was hallowed by the patriotic fervor of hundreds of imprisoned freedom fighters.
It is almost impossible for the likes of us today to imagine the satisfaction and fulfillment or the elation and exhilaration experienced by him while he strolled on the IIT Kharagpur campus on the eve of its first convocation!
Today I wish to share with you my pleasure, observations and insignificant role in a community's dream for excellence with the hope that it would be replicated in innumerable pockets around. What happens when a community dreams? What happens when their apparent hurdles of economic and social status do not hold back their ambitions for excellence in education? What if, as the fruits of their planning, hard work and zeal, 55 of their 61 students get selected in IITJEE admission tests in one year?
How would any institute feel? Imagine excellence with consistency coming from a school which teaches children of coal-mine workers and from other illiterate families in a remote area; it would surely make our heads turn and make us wonder what could have been the magic mantra for such unbelievable performance in academics from 1st generation learners.
This is what I saw in Neyveli, Tamil Nadu, when I was invited by the school and IIT coaching center on their decennial celebrations to which even the Governor of Tamil Nadu had been invited.
A remote village in Tamil Nadu rose to national importance and became the source of energy to Tamil Nadu when lignite was identified there and the NLC or Neyveli Lignite Corporation was dedicated by Nehru to the nation in 1956. Many engineers from Andhra Pradesh settled there and gradually many small-scale industries sprouted around the 'power' town.NLC is now on our country's map as a Navratna government enterprise and 'generates power to generate happiness'.
But I am happy that now it is on our map for another good reason, for truly fulfilling its corporate social responsibility, not just by running 13 schools and facilitating education for around 35,000 students from and around Neyveli but by going beyond what is satisfactory or accepted by identifying 'gems' literally hidden around the coal mines and encouraging them to dream big. A About 10 years ago, Narayana, a police officer, who had been appointed the vigilance officer in Neyveli, dreamt of starting an IIT coaching centre, against all odds, for the Neyveli student community's welfare.
Then he and some other engineers from Neyveli approached me with a request to start an IIT coaching center, a branch similar to what I then ran in Hyderabad. Had I been tempted, I would have remained a mere businessman and I would not be sharing my experiences with you today. Thanks to the lessons I learnt in prison from national leaders, I motivated them to launch a coaching center on their own, involving the local elite and the qualified, experienced engineers from NLC.
Today, it has grown by leaps and bounds and has performed better than my IIT coaching center in Hyderabad and also any other school in Tamil Nadu! Year after year, in the past decade, increasing numbers of first generation learners, children of workers in NLC and the surrounding hamlets, are proudly entering the portals of the highest centers of learning, IITs, BITs, NITs, deleting the word' impossible' from their vocabulary.
Is it a small achievement if 123 of the 297 students from Jawahar Higher Secondary School got selected for IITs while 178 got selected for BITS and NITs? I felt extremely humble and elated at the same time for I found some distant similarity between Nehru's joy in IIT Kharagpur's success and mine at seeing how the dream of a community rewrote the future in platinum for its youth.
Some may say that my comparison is too far-fetched, for I encouraged not an IIT but a feeder institute at its best, but what I see is that it is the best feeder institute, no less in its commitment to uplift the talented from the unrecognized quarters of our society.
Jawahar Higher Secondary school in Neyveli, where selection of students from Neyveli and the neighboring villages is done purely on merit basis, has progressed in 10 years to be a school which has taken hundreds of its children into the IIT portals, beating the record of any single school in the State.
The mantra of its success is not far to seek; it is the united effort of the elite and the educated staff in Neyveli who, through the Neyveli Telugu Samithi Educational Academy, volunteer to sharpen the skills, provide the right confidence and orientation through sufficient practice and exposure to guest lectures by experts from all over the country and resource materials from many distinguished institutes too. In addition to this, the crash courses and moral support make these children coming from a very ordinary and at times below average literary backgrounds excel and outperform even the cream from many corporate institutions which wish to make news from every rank achieved.
This drives me to a frequently ignored but vital issue: where should our centers of excellence be established? How can we make the potentially brilliant but underprivileged sectors partners in our progress? I believe that the secret of progress is to provide opportunities where the need is, to provide alternate sources of employment and livelihood to agricultural labor and, like the saying goes, if the mountain does not come to Muhammad, Muhammad must go to the mountain.
What happens if institutes of excellence, like IITs, are established in the hilly and remote areas which have natural resources but no source for progress, as Nehru did while choosing Hijli? The answer is obvious; many experts from established institutions will have to promote research and excellence, and around those educational institutions, many small-scale industries will crop up and the scope for utilizing the local resources while uplifting the natives will go hand in hand.
Can't the Neyveli model be repeated elsewhere? Can't having a center of excellence in the Telangana belt, in Andhra or in other such belts across the country rewrite the destiny of those areas? If only we can look beyond the regional differences and instant economic gains! Just as NLC has gone one extra step in its corporate social responsibility through genuine care, by supporting the Jawahar Educational Society, by dreaming of overcoming mediocrity in its educational endeavors, can't similar ventures elsewhere bear better fruits and redefine our democracy?
I believe it is possible because I dare to dream, not in my sleep but in every waking moment. I want all others too to dream like the NLC community.
Imagine excellence with consistency coming from a school which teaches children of coal-mine workers and from other illiterate families in a remote area; it would surely make our heads turn and make us wonder what could have been the magic mantra for such unbelievable performance A in academics from 1st generation learners