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Lalu on Modi track
- Minister chants development mantra

New Delhi, Jan. 3: The Narendra Modi school of development has an unlikely applicant: Lalu Prasad.

The railway minister kept chanting the development mantra — now associated with Modi after his stunning victory in Gujarat — at a special meeting of the utility’s board on Sunday last, according to sources.

Lalu Prasad, who till now had banked on his own brand of social engineering, also grudgingly admitted that caste might not be as potent an election-winner as it used to be, an official said.

“He kept referring to Modi’s victory in his characteristic manner, sometimes in jest and at times in shock. Once, he said that if a ‘demon’ like Modi can win on the development plank, anybody can win if they handle the issue properly. He said very clearly that factors of caste and religion were not as effective as they had been,” the official said.

By development Lalu Prasad seems to be meaning a mix of new projects and delivering what had been promised.

At the Sunday meeting, the minister focused his attention on two board members: member (mechanical) and member (engineering).

Of the seven nominees on the Railway Board, the mechanical and engineering members are the ones responsible for implementing projects that affect railway users directly.

The Gujarat results have also inspired Lalu Prasad to seek additional funds for development in Bihar. He has sought a package of Rs 60,000 crore from the Planning Commission for setting up an IIM and an IIT in the state and polytechnics in all districts. He is also lobbying for central varsity status for Patna University.

The package is over and above the Rs 18,000 crore he has asked for implementation of railway projects in the state. The projects include laying tracks and building bridges.

“A state like Bihar can never be completely devoid of caste and religion but chief minister Nitish Kumar also used the development issue with success. Lalu Prasad has the advantage of being a Union minister and he has been using railways to sanction new projects for the state on a regular basis,” a source close to the minister said.

Lalu Prasad’s tenure at the railways has coincided with a remarkable upswing in the fortunes of the giant service, and part of the credit has rubbed off on the minister, too, making him a coveted speaker at management schools.

The board had grown used to him holding forth on profits and privatisation but they had not spotted a pattern in his development thrust until he referred to Modi’s performance.

In hindsight, some officials said, Lalu Prasad had been focusing on what he considered development ever since the possibility of mid-term elections arose after the nuclear deal stand-off.

In October, Lalu Prasad had lost no time in sending the most efficient railway officials to Bihar with a directive to speed up projects.

In the last two months alone, the minister has laid foundation stones of at least 13 projects, including two locomotive manufacturing units and six railway lines. On October 13, he laid the foundation stone for a Rs 2,000-crore diesel locomotive factory at Marhaura in Chhapra, his own constituency.

“All these announcements just before the railway budget are generally not made. These should ideally be included in the budget,” an official said.

The budget should give Lalu Prasad an opportunity to garnish development with a dollop of populism.

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