(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
Railways was in news for different reasons last week. It wasn’t rail-budget (that the NDA government did away with in 2017 after 92 years); any train accident or cockroach in your dinner tray. It was because Sonia Gandhi, the matriarch of Congress, had opened her mouth and become a butt of joke.
Sonia makes few public speeches. But the other day, she spoke in Parliament and accused BJP of clandestinely “privatizing” Modern Coach Factory in Raebareli, Uttar Pradesh despite it producing coaches beyond its capacity. Her heart beat for thousands of employees who could be laid off. In perfect sync, All-India Railwaymen Federation (AIRF), with 1.4 million members, echoed Sonia’s fears.
Little had Sonia known of the muck it would invite on her own Congress party. Railway minister Piyush Goyal rose in reply and the skeletons of Congress regime began tumbling out. In 64 years, between 1950-2014, Congress had added only 13,000 odd tracks to its network; that Modern Coach Factory produced not a single coach since it was set in motion in 2007; and some unfinished projects in West Bengal date back from the 1970s. We would come to “privatization” bit in a while for a bigger Railways story awaits our attention.
India runs on Railways. Passenger services (11 million passengers per day) account for two-third of its operations; the remaining one-third is freight (6 lakh tonnes daily). In terms of revenue though the role reverses. Freight accounts for two-thirds of revenue. By 2050, India would account for 40 per cent of global Rail activity.
This is just a starter. India is poised to become world’s most populous nation by 2024. Most of it would be young, needing goods and that too in double quick time. India would’ve 829 million Internet users by 2021. It’s a prospect which salivates E-commerce biggies. It also has the government drooling towards its 5 trillion-economy goal. Transportation infrastructure, along with energy, is the biggest economic growth driver for the country. A 7% or 8% growth is impossible without an efficient Railways.
The worry is most of India’s transportation business still runs on land. That’s because our railway tracks carry both passengers and freight. It slows up the goods movement to a crawl. It makes transporters wary; and the investors reluctant. They have good enough reasons too. The account book of Railways show that out of every rupee it earned, 93 paisa was spent just to keep it chugging and alive.
In comes Dedicated Freight Corridor. Demand for rail freight movement is infinite. It’s government’s priority too. Two corridors under construction are expected to be functional over the next two years. The Eastern and Western Corridor covers a total stretch of 3,360 kilometres. The Eastern Corridor stretches from Ludhiana (Punjab) to Dankunj (West Bengal) and the Western one lasts from Jawaharlal Nehru Port (Mumbai) to Dadri (Uttar Pradesh). Visit any of its sites and you would be stunned by the speed of operations in sorting out locomotive and wagon specifications, energy maximization, freight logistics, track safety, commercial and marketing plans and skill-enhancement centres etc.
Freight is a game India can’t lag behind. While inland waterways, coastal shipping, air and road transport are doing their bit, Railways has to be the prime mover to prepare India for its next decade. The matter is not just of economy, it’s of environment too. While jobs and revenue are paramount, the matter of environment is one of life and death.
Fortunately, Indian Railways has pulled up its stocks. Nearly 45 per cent of all our rail nework is electrified today and rest are running on diesel locomotive. No longer we are reliant on steam engines which are run on coal and its fossil fuel lay our environment waste. Most, if not all, of our superfast trains hav electric engines. More and more tracks are being electrified. Varanasi and Chittranjan manufacture all types of railways engines. Coach factories in Perambur, Kapurthala, Raebareli etc produce the compartments on which India runs.
And talk of passengers. Since 2000, the growth of passengers using Indian Railways has gone up by 200 per cent. It would only grow further. India needs more and more short-distance trains which are electric and power efficient. Superfast trains, lampooned by opposition, are critical too.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagged off India’s first semi high-speed train, Vande Bharat Express, earlier this year. This plush 16-coach air-conditioned, self-propelled train doesn’t have a locomotive. It runs between Delhi and Varanasi with halts at Kanpur and Allahabad. The 780-km long journey is completed in eight hours and slices off three hours from it earlier duration. This is India’s fastest train to date. The looks and interiors of the train have the feel of a commercial airplane. Hold your breath, 130 similar semi high-speed trains are in the pipeline.
Sure, all this needs investment. Government is doing its bid to attract private players (General Electric is already there). Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is being sought. Public-Private Partnership is the need of the hour. Corporatization plan is mooted, like the one of Indian Railway Rolling Stock Company to hive off seven of its production units and associated workshops which Sonia Gandhi mischievously termed as “privatization.” Modernization drive has so far fetched Rs 1.21 lakh crore of investment. Indeed, the estimation is of $190 billion investment by 2050. High-speed trains could save India up to $64 billion on fuel expenses. The diesel cost presently is Rs 15000 crores per annum.
After an existence of 176 years, Indian Railways is getting the attention it deserves. No longer those railway budgets which were only meant to announce schemes and new routes and never saw the light. It desperately needs investment and India is exploring all its avenues. To run it down as “privatization by stealth” is ethical debauchery.
(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
Forgive me Chandrababu Naidu. The supremo of Telugu Desam Party. I am laughing. I mean the Modi-Opposition which you cultivated with such photo-ops in Lutyens Media is toying with the idea of inviting your sworn enemy YSR Jaganmohan Reddy in the “opposition conclave” on Friday.
The hobnobbing of Opposition is aimed at how to maximize the combined strength of 121 MPs from the 2019 polls and create roadblocks for Modi in the parliament. There is DMK of course, and TMC of Mamata’s backyard, and Congress with its grand tally of 52 MPs. Naidu too has been invited along with his three MPs. But so shredded is his reputation that hissing is on for Jagan Reddy even if Naidu is “uncomfortable” in sharing the space with his arch rival.
Jagan Reddy, like his father, is a nightmare for Naidu. Reddy wasn’t even born when Naidu was dabbling in politics. First his father, Y.S. Rajashekhara Reddy decimated Naidu in 2004 and 2009 General Elections, winning 29 and 33 seats out of 42 in undivided Andhra Pradesh, leaving only the crumbs of five and six seats for the TDP. Reddy Sr. died in a helicopter accident and his removal did help Naidu. But not for long. In the 2019 General Elections, Reddy Jr. drove TDP into ground by winning 22 out of 25 seats. The simultaneous Assembly elections were no better and Reddy’s party, YSRCP, were equally merciless. It bagged 151 seats in the 175-member house. TDP took the leftover of 23 seats. No wonder, Naidu couldn’t bring himself to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Jagan Reddy this afternoon.
But Naidu has nobody but himself to blame. He allied himself with Congress which is seen in Andhra Pradesh as the party that broke up their state into two parts, Telangana being the other. Naidu didn’t learn from the lessons of Telangana Assembly elections last year where he butted in, in alliance with Congress when the need was to recover the lost ground in his home state. The results were a nightmare for him and his party: K. Chandrashekhar Rao’s Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) bagged 88 out of 119 seats in the assembly. TDP’s tally? Just two.
But Naidu was unrepentant. He went ahead for a national alliance with Congress though for the state polls, he fought on his own. The results have been similarly disastrous. The personal setback was best manifested in the defeat of Nara Lokesh, his son, from the Mangalagiri assembly constituency.
In the national consciousness, Chandrababu Naidu was seen as a tech-savy leader who gave Andhra Pradesh a global image in the Silicon Valley he helped create in Hyderabad; never mind the local whisper of him being most corrupt and arrogant.
Then he began hogging space on front pages of national English mainstream media in the run-up to 2019 Elections. One day he was in Delhi visiting Kejriwal at the latter’s residence; other day he was in Kolkata in successfully persuading Mamata Banerjee to break her sham fast. There were rallies in Vizag with the two leaders. One day Naidu was offering help on Fani cyclone to Naveen Patnaik in Odisha; other day he was in UP, paying courtesy visits to Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati. Those numerous trips to Rashtrapati Bhavan with his petitions. Catching up with Rahul Gandhi all too often.
PR machinery was in full swing. Naidu, Naidu everywhere. His trademark safari suit, the wiry frame of an Abraham Lincoln, trimmed salt and pepper beard, no wonder Naidu saw a Moses in himself who would have the entire opposition wading into a sea behind him. He would lead India into a vision of his own, Modi would be driven out in the Bay of Bengal, history would remember him as a saviour.
Unfortunately, all of it was a bluff. We knew it from the day he threw a tantrum against BJP/NDA for not giving Andhra Pradesh the “special status.” The welfare of his state was never on his mind: after all BJP was giving the state much more than AP would’ve got with the “special status.” But Naidu was a clever fox, wasn’t he. He wanted to take the steam out of Jagan Reddy’s campaign for “special status.” Hijack his rival’s agenda. Turn his medicine into a poison. Ready to rule Andhra, and the country, till the sun sets on him.
There is little that differentiates delusion from senility. Cultivating an image is one thing, but believing in it is tragic. (yes, yes, yes, I also have Navjot Singh Sidhu in mind as I write this). Naidu’s ego must have been fed by the opponents around him. Wasn’t 2014 too recent when he won 117 seats in the assembly; there were as many as 17 members of his party in the Parliament. He saw himself as a kingmaker. One who could make Narendra Modi dance to his tune.
We all know how the cookie crumbled. Modi didn’t fall for Naidu’s blackmail. No concession on “special status.” You want to leave NDA, please go ahead. Naidu was caught in his own trap. Ominously Amit Shah declared two months before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls: Naidu would be a fool if he believed he would be welcomed back in the fold.
Now Naidu has been hung out to dry. He is about to turn 70. Life and energy are in its final phase. Humiliations are piling in. It looks a sorry end for him; like he inflicted on his father-in-law NT Rama Rao who had trusted him with his daughter and the reins of his party. (In his last interview, NT Rama Rao compared himself to Mughal emperor Shah Jahan who had been imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb, in this case Chandrababu Naidu).
History often has a tragic way of repeating itself.
For all his piety, love and reliance on non-violence and ahimsa, it’s one of history’s indisputable facts that Mahatma Gandhi relied heavily on Indian capitalists’ funds to keep the Congress going in pre-Independence days.
Today, when we hear Rahul Gandhi shriek “Suit-Boot ki sarkar” as a barb to Narendra Modi and his NDA government, it seems so improper given the financial diet which kept Congress on its feet in pre-1947 era.
B.R. Nanda, a contemporary and a pre-eminent biographer of Mahatma Gandhi admits in his book: “In Search of Gandhi..,” that two thoughts dominated his early years in India in 1920s: “One, that capitalists kept Congress and Gandhi flush with funds…and as quid pro quo, Gandhi astutely checked the revolutionary aspect of his struggle against the Raj to suit the vested interests of the capitalists.”
The experience of “Deshbandhu” Chittaranjan Das was a bitter testimony to such a belief. Subhas Chandra Bose was a disciple of Das. In the latter’s biography “Brothers against the Raj,” hugely acclaimed author Leonard A. Gordon writes thus (condensed for brevity):
In 1920, Gandhi promised “Swaraj in one year” as he gave call for civil disobedience. The call was a massive success. When on November 17, the Prince of Wales arrived in Bombay, Calcutta was completely shut-down by protestors. Around India, some 25,000 Congress workers were arrested. Congress was declared unlawful. Thousands more now poured into British jails, including Das and Subhas Bose. But when British offered a proposal of roundtable meeting, Gandhi rejected. Das was angry with Gandhi. In Das’ own words:
“I myself led people to prison. I started the movement in Bengal. I sent my son first to jail. My son was followed by m wife, and then I went to prison…I knew that the spirit of resistance that manifested itself was mighty and the proudest Government did bend to it. You (Gandhi) bungled it, and mismanaged it. Now you turn round and ask people to spin and do the work of Charka alone.”
In 1922, the Chauri Chaura incident happened. The Congress working committee met and suspended the planned civil disobedience. Peasants were instructed not to withhold rent payments from landlords, who were informed that the Congress `in no way intended to attack their legal rights.’
Writes Gordon: “The Congress…when ending many non-coperation activities and calling off the planned civil disobedience action, opposed rent strikes by peasants against their landlords. The Congress wanted and needed the support of the wealthier strata in society and was not willing to challenge economic vested interest.” (Italics mine).
“He (Subhas Bose) was possibly the author of a leader for Bangla Katha journal of 7 February 1923 which read: `The swaraj which the Congress had so long knowingly or unknowingly wished to have, is the swaraj of the rich and middle class. We do not always properly realize the fact that the masses of the country are still lying outside the Congress arena.”
Among the historians and observers, there is a stream of thought which believes that civil disobedience and non-cooperation movements, burning of foreign clothes etc, directly benefited India’s own Capitalists. Another though premises that due to the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, which announced the arrival of Communism on world stage, Indian capitalists were fearful of a similar outbreak of resistance among its own workers. It was in their interests that such revolutionary methods were kept in check and Congress, being the leading party, alone could do it.
The above details is not to suggest a conspiracy between Congress and Capitalists. But personal interests perhaps guided both. Congress was close to bankruptcy when Gandhi arrived on the Indian scene. All it could do was to hold its’ annual sessions. It badly needed money and Gandhi proved to be a brilliant fund-raiser. It’s not to doubt Gandhi’s integrity or his commitment to his idea of India. Nor is to say that a few Indian capitalists were not genuinely inspired by Gandhi’s religious and political ethos. Both needed each other in those turbulent years.
But when Rahul Gandhi today accuses of Modi government siding with the Capitalists, it appears such a sham. He needs to go to libraries and read books to know more about his own Congress and its affiliation with capitalists.
It’s now given that attacks on judiciary would hog the front pages of newspapers and prime time television till the 2019 General Elections.
Newspapers would speculate on the “allegations” whether the Chief Justice of India ought to be impeached or not but you would never see them beat one’s own brains whether the four “dissenting” SC judges have themselves invited an impeachment motion on their press conference earlier this year (as opined by former SC judge RS Sodhi).
You would see these presstitutes flagpole government’s apparent delay in confirming the appointments of judges, initiated by the SC Collegium, but you would never see them brainstorm if government’s demand for a more transparent appointment system is justified given how a particular judge, belonging to Collegium itself, was ordered by the SC itself to undergo mental “stability” examination!
The Lutyens’ Media would run up any given lampost to browbeat the NDA government for trying to “encroach” upon the judiciary but you would never see them admit that a Law Minister was always the part of the judicial appointment system till the Collegium came about in 1993.
(That “enroahed” system got a judgment against the sitting Prime Minister of India by a Allahabad High Court judge. That “encroached” system produced judges of the caliber of Justices Vivian Bose, Hidayatullah, JS Verma etc. What Collegium has produced, well…)
These despicable hacks would drown you with the noise that government is taking over the judiciary. They would never clarify as to how the “A.J. Raja acquittal” or Bapu Asaram guilty pronouncement then came about.
The crooked media would never tell you why sexual harassment charges against judges are dismissed on less-than-convincing grounds.
The deceitful pen-pushers wouldn’t tell an opaque system encourages judges to be manipulated—or why else most of the Supreme Court judges end up getting lucrative post-retirement jobs—and that it must be done away with.
The shameless mainstream media wouldn’t encourage dismantling the opaque system even after names of corrupt former CJIs are presented in a sealed envelope in the court. It would not question a Kapil Sibal why he didn’t asked for “impeachment” motion in above allegations of corruption and sexual misdemeanours against the honourable judges.
Best of all, you would never see the gutter media present the fact that after all this, NDA has cleared the appointment of more judges than ever per year.
So cram up the facts and be ready with answers when propaganda hits your face next time.