| Chief minister Nitish Kumar. Telegraph picture |
Patna, Aug. 21: Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury’s criticism of the state government in the train tragedy came as a jarring note amid the bonhomie between the Congress and chief minister Nitish Kumar.
Chowdhury, the minister of state for railways, blamed the Nitish government for the accident in which 28 people were killed on Monday.
Today, before leaving for the airport on his way to Mumbai, the chief minister told reporters after a state-level bankers’ committee programme at a hotel: “I have read his statement in newspapers. It is a highly irresponsible one and I can say he has made a fool out of himself.”
Nitish had denied any role of the state government in the tragedy when the Saharsa-Patna Rajya Rani Express hurtled down the through line when hundreds of pilgrims were crossing the tracks to offer puja at Kattyani temple near the Dhamara Ghat station.
Chowdhury, who had visited the accident site and the Khagaria Sadar hospital where the injured are admitted, emphasised that the state government had failed to inform the railways about the crowd of devotees that would arrive on Monday at Dhamara Ghat. He also took pot shots at the state government for failing to connect the place by road despite the huge funds given by the Centre to Bihar for constructing roads. The junior railway minister also took a dig at the chief minister for mixing up the death figures with the number of injured.
But the state Congress leaders have not taken Nitish’s statement kindly. “The statement of the chief minister is unwarranted. Chowdhury did not say anything wrong. All the state government had to do is post adequate number of GRP personnel to manage the crowd,” said state Congress president Ashok Choudhary.
The JD(U) leaders are livid over the charges hurled by the Union minister, a Congress MP from Bengal’s Berhampore, the party’s stronghold constituency over the past few decades. “Even the arch political rivals — the BJP and the RJD — had not been so harsh on the state government for the tragedy. Now, Chowdhury has provided them fodder for sharpening their attack on the Nitish government,” said a JD(U) MP pointing out that BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi is already visiting the victims’s family members.
At a time when the JD(U) has parted ways with the BJP a couple of months ago and new equation with the Congress is being drawn up ahead of the next year’s general elections, the attack on the Nitish government is a bit odd although Chowdhury is known for his plain speak. Although considered to be quite close to the Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, Chowdhury has hardly any say in the party affairs, especially possible tie-ups with regional parties in states other than Bengal.
The Nitish government is still reeling from the Opposition attack in the Bagaha police firing, terrorist attack on Madhabodhi temple and death of 23 children in Gandaman. “Chowdhury may have ensured another addition to the list,” said a JD(U) MLA wondering how the junior railway minister was so hostile after the break-up with the BJP after which all Union ministers had been generous in their praise for Nitish.