(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 ).
Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, finishes his three-day visit to India today and a beaming him has made it to the front pages of all the dailies. Don’t be fooled by it. India has moved away from the United States big time.
It’s not a zero-sum game and hands would still be shaken and pictures clicked but the United States wants to swoop on India’s strategic autonomy while Prime Minister Narendra Modi is determined to protect his own turf.
India won’t let go on five squadrons of S-400 missiles from Russia nor would it back down on Iran beyond a point as Modi looks to pivot India for 2050 when the United States would be just one of the great powers and confronted with the possible axis of Russia, India and China.
The United States sees Russia and China as rogue nations who are going broke to dominate Eurasia but neither sanctions against Russia nor tariff wars and threats against China are yielding much. Indeed, Russia and China are now joined at hips and enjoy a bonhomie not seen since the heady Communist days of 1950.
That India has firmly moved into the Russia-China orbit was tellingly visible in the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan where Narendra Modi chose silence rather than condemnation of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Modi’s India has been an unequivocal critic of BRI but he didn’t say a word in protest against the Bishkek Declaration which praised BRI and bore the endorsement of assembled heads of states.
Modi didn’t praise BRI but he didn’t criticize it either in his own speech. Indeed, he evoked “Wuhan Spirit” to charm the Chinese. Tellingly, it didn’t elicit any sharp barb either from Xi Jinping or Vladimir Putin.
India, critically, has accepted Russia’s invitation to assist China in creating a “Polar Silk Road” in the Arctic Sea, a commercial shipping venture through Russia’s Northern Sea Route as part of the BRI. The project is worth trillions of dollars and would connect the two continents of Europe and Asia with sea. It would bring liquefied natural gas from central-northern Siberia to be delivered across Europe, Japan, South Korea and China of course.
Modi held bilateral meetings on the sidelines with Xi and Putin in Bishkek which is only one of many scheduled between the two leaders in the remaining months of 2019. Modi and Xi would meet thrice, besides an informal summit in India, probably in Varanasi. With Putin, it’s twice as many times in rest of 2019.
That Modi has decided to thumb his nose at the United States is visible on the revival of RIC (Russia, India, China) dialogue which the three nations have decided to hold at the very summit where G20 nations are meeting from Friday—Osaka, Japan. It sure would raise heckles from the US president Donald Trump who would also be present in Osaka.
Modi has been given a mandate by millions of Indians to lead the country on the path of growth and security. It’s only feasible when India pursues its interest with autonomy and not as a stooge of the United States, more so with a whimsical president like Donald Trump at the helm.
Alice Wells of the US State Department has recently outlined the Indo-Pacific strategy of the United States. Said Wells: “The US, alongside India, Japan, Australia and other trusted allies and partners will support the political and economic autonomy of the Indo-Pacific countries…We cannot allow China or any other country to subvert our partners through unsustainable push economies into unsustainable debt…” Yet, as far as India is concerned—as Modi outlined in Shangri-La Dialogue, “Indo-Pacific” is not a strategy.
The US is also offering the bait of including India in the US’ International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) which would give India a status equal to one of NATO allies. Along with the status would come the export of high-level military technologies including ballistic missiles, drones, nuclear weapons simulation tools and energy weapons. It’s unlikely India would fall for it given how easily US dumps such pacts—sample TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), climate deal of Paris and the nuclear deal with Iran.
The United States knows what the alliance between Russia, China and India would mean. Even a casual look at the geographical map is enough to convey the control these three nations would exercise over the landscape of Eurasia. In wooing India, US is banking too much on the bond of democracy and a commitment to liberal international order which came into being after World War II and had rules and institutions dominated by the United States.
Kiron Skinner of the US State Department has already stated that the US perceives its strategy against China as a “fight with a really different civilization.” India has no such issues. It understands that the global power balance and West’s control of it is on its last leg. China and India are coming on to their own as they have for most of human history. India would push for its strategic autonomy and it lies in opening up access to Iran, deepening military ties with an all-weather friend like Russia, bringing neighbours’ into its orbit and be China’s friend, now that the latter really needs it.
India also knows that it could no longer be ambivalent. The United States and China are polarizing the world and there is no middle ground left for anyone. It has to make a choice and one gets the feeling it already has. If the US wants to pass sanctions against those who go against its wishes, then so be it.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that “Indian Communists do not respect India’s history, culture or spirituality,” while condemning the “most shameful” behavior of Pinaryi Vijayan’s Communist LDF government on the Sabrimala Temple issue.
Predictably, the CPI (M) has gone ballistic against the comment on its twitter handle but I ask what’s there to argue about really?
Let’s take India’s pre-independence history. Didn’t communists in Bengal assembly support The Partition? (It’s an irony though that communists, like Leftist Amartya Sen had to flee East Pakistan to India whose unity they had betrayed). Wasn’t CPI (Communist Party of India) officially against the Quit India movement?
Or the annals of India after Independence. Didn’t the CPI chief B.T. Randive termed India’s freedom as fake (“yeh azadi jhooti hai”) and called for an armed revolution in 1948? Who do you think a section of Communists supported in the 1962 Indo-China War? (E.M.S. Namboodiripad among others argued in favour of China and dubbed India as the aggressor). Isn’t the pro-Chinese faction of those days is the Communist Party of India (Marxist) today? Didn’t the CPI (M) parrot the line of its masters in China in opposing the historic Indo-US nuclear deal in 2007?
And what to say of the “Eminent Historians” from the stable of Communism who have butchered the Indian history in India’s text books and academia. For instance, are you told the story of Battle of Talikota of 1565 when Vijaynagar Empire which had two Muslims as its main generals who, at the last minute, betrayed the legendary Hindu kingdom and went to the other side? (It practically ended the golden era of Hindu renaissance).
And how do you think the story of destruction of Hindu temples by invading Muslims is told to you? Famous Indologist Dr. Koenraad Elst points out the instance that invading Muslims are blamed only for destroying 80 temples in India. Though one of these 80 entries read: Qutubuddin Aibak, the military general of Muhammad Ghouri, destroyed 1000 temples in Varanasi!!!
And how do you think dreaded Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb’s destruction of all the temples in Varanasi is explained away? That it was due to a Brahmiin conspiracy as one of Muslim princes had been abducted and hidden away in a temple? Any historical proof? My foot.
Can Indian communists deny that one of the main planks of their ideology is atheism? Isn’t it a fact that one of their leaders, Brinda Karat once led a savage attack against Baba Ramdev? What’s been their stance when the Kanchi Shankaracharya was sent to jail? Or on Sri Sri Ravi Shankar who gets targeted often? If these men don’t matter to you then isn’t Modi justified in claiming that Indian Communists do not respect India’s history, culture or spirituality?
Would these communists ever confess that Stalin killed more people than Hitler did before or during the Second World War? Would they acknowledge the genocides of a Mao Zedong or a Pol Pot? Or is that genocide of millions don’t matter in this case while a stray lynching sees them paint the town in red? What was their stance when Salman Rushdie’s book “Satanic Verses” was banned in India?
So thorough is Communists hold on our textbooks and academics that anyone who holds a contrary opinion is never allowed to rise up the academic ladder. But all those who fall in line are conferred with position and prestige.
There is a lot more which could be said about Communists and Naxalites, including the Urban Naxals, but this must wait—some other day, some other time.
(Facebook has set out 10 tools to check Fake News. A few give-aways are headlines, source, evidence and photos. Times of India in today’s edition has been found out in peddling a Fake News).
Times of India today published a Front Page anchor: “Controversy erupts over absence of Taj Mahal from UP tourism booklet.”
The news report, which stretched from Front Page to inside pages and had a few other screaming headlines in between the sheets, is so bogus that I wouldn’t have bothered to pick it up but for the propagandists running away with the Fake News and Social Media full of “communal” Yogi Adityanath and his nefarious designs to push the Hindutva agenda.
I won’t bore you much but here are the facts:
(a) UP government has published a tourism booklet, “Uttar Pradesh Paryatan Apar Sambhavnayen (Uttar Pradesh Tourism: It’s High Potential)” which has mentioned ongoing projects and Taj Mahal doesn’t find a mention in it.
(b) The booklet has mentioned ongoing toruism projects such as ones in Varanasi, Mathura, Ayodhya, Gorakhpur, Devipatan, Naimisharanya, Allahabad, Chitrakoot, Kushinagar, Bundelkhand, Mirzapur and Sonbhadra.
(c) The UP government has also added that indeed a World Bank-assisted Rs. 156-crore development project on Taj Mahal is due and would begin as soon as the Centre’s clearance is secured.
But the Fake News perpetrators and propagandists would have none of it. The fact that Taj Mahal doesn’t find a mention since the booklet is strictly about ongoing projects hasn’t cut any ice with them.
There is no gainsaying by Times of India that it has presented viewpoints of both sides. This story in itself is a non-starter. Tending a sick child in the family isn’t a neglect of the other child. If at all, the UP government deserves praise for maximizing the potential of tourism in the state. And reserving Rs 156 crores for Taj Mahal is better than all those secularist frauds could ever manage.
Thus you have all the jokers lining up and doing their acts. There is Brinda Karat, Raj Babbar, Abhishek Sanghvi and Rajeev Shukla, among others, who are horrified at this “communal” designs on Taj Mahal and how Hindutva is tearing the secular fabric of this country apart.
Times of India, for good measure, remembered Yogi Adityanath having said a few months ago that “foreign dignitaries visiting the country used to be gifted replicas of Taj Mahal, which did not reflect Indian culture.”
And frankly, why there shouldn’t be a word about Taj Mahal? A mausoleum created by an emperor who married his departed queen’s sister as soon as she was dead? I agree this is unrelated as is the fact that thousands of workers were dismembered once the mausoleum was done. There is little doubt that Taj Mahal is beautiful to behold at. But should it stop us from praising our magnificent temples? Does promoting our stunning heritage is a sign of communalism?
The propagandists don’t realize that running down India’s magnificent heritage isn’t palatable to majority in this country. Time is not far when this majority would come out and say; “To hell, with your secularism.”
Hindus have suffered for over a thousand years now. In the past they were ravaged by Muslim invaders and British imperialists. In independent India, it was the turn of modern rulers. Now Hindus are coming out of their slumber. All those who only wish ill of them would be chased down to the end of this world.