When Suresh Prabhu took over as the railway minister in November 2014, it was seen as a key political victory for the BJP over the frenemy Shiv Sena. However, less than three years since then, it seems the BJP leadership was more content with the political win and cared little for the actual purpose which is to serve the people who overwhelmingly elected it to power in May 2014.
Prabhu, despite his tech-savvy functioning, has done the actual work no favour. The Indian Railways has seen nearly 350 accidents – big and small – during Prabhu's time resulting in the deaths of several and it seems there is still not an end to it.
While Prabhu has set up a precedent of mobilising his ministry through social media, responding to passengers in distress with alacrity, and the NDA government is trying to take the railways to the next level by bringing in the bullet train and expanding the railway communication to the distant corners, he has failed miserably to ensure the basic service which is safety of commuters in the country's most popular mode of transportation.
PM Modi never had to deal with unstable coalition partners, yet his govt failed in railways maintenance?
After the NDA came to power with a majority verdict, Prime Minister Narendra Modi never had the headache of appeasing opportunist regional parties by granting them the railways ministry as the cow to milk for their own populist purposes. During the UPA II government, the seat for the railways minister had turned into a musical chair with six incumbents taking over in five years, thanks to the nuisance of the coalition politics.
But despite not having that problem, why didn't the Modi government succeed in bettering the state of our railways? The recent disaster that happened in UP was the result of a complete irresponsibility and though Prabhu ensured that top heads rolled, but is that really enough a reason to feel elated? He, afterall, hasn't yet addressed the basic issues as was pointed out by the Anil Kakodkar Committee and accepted by the ministry five years ago.
At a time when India's railways is facing an existential threat from the aviation sector, such pathetic functioning would only bring its death faster. But India's populist leadership at the moment is not bothered enough to bring a substantial change. Why shouldn't Modi sack Prabhu for the repeated disasters? If the prime minister has a zero tolerance policy for corruption, he should also have the same for poor performance. Whether Prabhu tweets like Modi himself is immaterial here. The bottomline is that his ministry has learned nothing from repeated instances and that is an offence.
Bullet train versus ramshackle infrastructure: Dividing India in a new way?
The bullet train project is aimed at the next elections to woo India's burgeoning middle class. But PM Modi must ensure that railways is not just for those who are at an economic advantage and harbour ambitions to compete with the best in the world. Neither, taking help from the Japanese to set up bullet trains as a strategic countermove to the Chinese make any relevance for the common people.
The horrific safety standards; the poor food; the ramshackle infrastructure co-existing with the mega plan to lay out the bullet train plan shows how the rulers of the day, thoroughly influenced by the principles of a neo-liberal economy, are happily compromising with the sinister notion of classifying the people of the same country into two – those who also believe in the same neo-liberal economics and serve as the flag-bearers for the current establishment and those who, though expect things to improve, but don't really matter because of their moderate economic rankings.
Modi's government is polarising India on an unprecedented lines through its vision for the railways. The unapologetic stand despite repeated loss of human lives bares it all. The saffron camp needs to bring things back on tracks fast or it itself may get derailed in the near future.