New Delhi, Aug 31 (IANS) Opening up to students of one of India's finest colleges, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Thursday vowed to narrow the gap between the rich and poor and defended the economic reforms he unleashed in 1991.
Answering four questions from students of Lady Shri Ram College here, he also promised to implement a cabinet decision to introduce caste-based quotas in educational institutions of higher learning.
Asked by a third year journalism student, Raksha Kumar, if given a chance he would want to rethink the reforms, now that he has seen both 'Bharat' and 'India', the prime minister asserted, after some seeming hesitation, that he stood by whatever measures he introduced as finance minister 15 years ago.
'The 1991 decision was correct for the situations then, and my government is taking steps to bridge the gap between the poor and the rich,' he said.
The prime minister was then asked whether or not reservations for students be based on economic criteria. The question came from Priyanka Chaturvedi, a second year journalism student.
The prime minister put on a confident look and said that the 'social criterion' for reservations was equally necessary.
Manmohan Singh said he and Congress president Sonia Gandhi were all for the parliamentary bill that seeks to reserve a third of all seats for women in both parliament and state assemblies and that he hoped to convince his allies to let it become law soon. He was responding to Sunaina Wadhwa, a third year political science student.
The last question evoked laughter. A student wanted to know who played a more important role in nation building: teacher or politician?
Smiling, the prime minister gave a predictable answer: 'Teachers do much more for nation building than any politician can ever do.'
The question-answer session came after Manmohan Singh and other dignitaries attending the grand finale of the golden jubilee celebrations of Lady Shri Ram College, reputedly one of the finest not just here but the entire country.
The prime minister entered a packed house of expectant faces. The audience was a mix of faculty, non-teaching staff, alumna and students. Many students were dressed in elegant saris, eager to catch a close glimpse of the prime minister.
Delhi University Vice Chancellor Dilip Paintal spoke of LSR, as the institution is popularly known, as a 'leader' among colleges.
College chairman Bharat Ram did not attend the event due to illness. His son Arun Bharat Ram read out his speech that traced how the college grew from modest beginnings in a small building in Daryagnaj, in the city's old quarters.
Meenakshi Gopinath, the college principal, expressed her desire to see LSR grow into a women's university in the next 25 years. The prime minister endorsed her views.
A choir of about 100 LSR girls presented a repertoire of songs that were sung by students in their assemblies throughout the past 50 years.
An exhibition of publications and photos portraying the 50 years of LSR was also inaugurated Thursday. It will continue for four days.