Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Lalu spreads cheer

The Union railway budget today was a typical Lalu show: a theatrical display replete with animated gesticulations and carefully choreographed oratorical performance. It’s difficult to see him in any other manner, is it not? He is often seen as a comic sidelight of Indian politics; and today as he was rolling out one concession after another to the Indian railway commuter I wondered what he was up to and where would stop.

* Fares for AC I class reduced by 6% in lean season and 3% in peak season
* Superfast surcharge in second class reduced by 20%
* Passenger train tickets will cost Re. 1 less on non-suburban routes
* Railway tickets will be available at petrol pumps, ATMs and post offices
* Around 800 bogies added to popular trains
* Unreserved compartments to have cushion seats
* Number of unreserved compartments up by 6
* Concession for UPSC Examinees up to 50 per cent
* 8,000 automatic vending machines to be set up
* More berths per coach, lower fares
* Specially designed coaches for handicapped
* Sleeper coach berths to go up from 72 to 84

A railway budget has never been so sweet in the recent past. But on second thoughts, it wasn’t so much of a surprise, after all. He has turned the railways around. Profit up by Rs 20,000 crore, that’s what he said today! Lalu has been riding the crest of a wave lately, and it only looks he is getting carried higher and higher.

Imagine he was once synonymous with corruption: a self-centred villain, numb to people’s sensitivities, who drove Bihar deeper and deeper into social chaos. It’s widely speculated that had it not been for the Election Commission’s strict policing, he would have rigged his way back to power over and over again in Bihar.

There’s an unanswered question: if he was so capable as to turn around the railways, why couldn’t he do that to Bihar? What prompted such a turnaround in a man like Lalu? No answers still, only speculations. One of them is: He lost in the election in Bihar. He had to win elsewhere. He had to prove a point. He just decided to turn good, to steal a march over his arch rival, Nitish Kumar, and the New Indian Railways was born! Whatever be the reason, nothing matters, as long as the commuter benefits.

Among all the sweetness of the budget, one element of bitterness remains: As Lalu Prasad was reading out his budget speech, our distinguished lawmakers, who symbolise the great democracy that we are, couldn’t lend their ears to the honourable railway minister and hear out the budget speech quietly in dignity. Why they couldn’t, is as much a mystery as Lalu’s turnaround.

1 comment:

  1. I am not very sure whose achievement it is. It could be again Manmohans policies and strategies working through the beaurocracy who also keeps Lalu happy with coach factories and hospitals etc.

    In general Railways has their revenue coming from freight anyway and the vote for the govt only comes from passenger segment.