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Charity begins at home...
…stretches to heart and halts outside Bengal

New Delhi, July 8: If any two states can be called winners and losers in the battle for railway largesse, they were… (no prizes for guessing): railway minister Sadananda Gowda’s Karnataka and former railway minister Mamata Banerjee’s Bengal, respectively.

Of the 58 new trains, some nine are either starting or completing their journeys in Karnataka, tying for first place with Uttar Pradesh, the country’s largest state which returned a record number of BJP Lok Sabha MPs.

Maharashtra, a state where the BJP-Shiv Sena combine will be trying to score a win in the Assembly elections slated for later this year, has been awarded 14 trains which either start or end in that industrial powerhouse.

SPECIAL TRAIN

The railway budget has proposed a special train featuring the life and work of Swami Vivekananda to inculcate good moral values and propagate his teachings. When Narendra Modi had visited Belur Math in April last year, he had said: “The atmosphere here has really touched my heart. My visits to Calcutta have always been my favourite, especially this time because it is also Swami Vivekananda’s 150th birth anniversary.” Modi had first visited Belur in the early 1960s as a 17-year-old boy aspiring to join the order.

A tourist train from Gadag to Pandharpur via Bagalkot, Bijapur and Solapur, covering the pilgrim and tourist places of Karnataka and Maharashtra, is also in the works. Something which jubilant BJP workers did not fail to notice as they took out processions to celebrate the railway budget today at various cities in Karnataka.

Gowda is a Kannadiga leader who was briefly chief minister of his state. He delivered his maiden railway budget speech in English, not in Hindi, the usual language of reply by BJP ministers in Parliament. In the course of the budget speech, Gowda also quoted Kannada poet D.V. Gundappa.

It was but natural that Gowda tried to copy the likes of Madhav Rao Scindia, Jaffer Sharief, Ghani Khan Choudhury, Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad, Ram Vilas Paswan and Mamata in trying to push their state’s importance on the Indian railway map.

Politicians say that it is also natural that a political alliance tries to give railway trains and new railway lines to a state where it is trying to wrest power. Besides, Maharashtra’s claim to a major share in the railway pie has in any case never been ignored by any railway minister as the state is one of the top earners for the tracked networks.

However, Bengal is not seen as just Mamata’s Bengal but as the cornerstone of a densely used railway network which fetches the utility a large part of its revenues from hauling coal, iron ore and steel. Just two new trains were announced for Bengal in the budget — a premium one from Shalimar to Chennai and a weekly Howrah-Paradip Express.

“West Bengal has been neglected and humiliated by the new government,” Mamata said on her official Facebook page.

Neighbouring Bihar, which has elected a considerable number of BJP parliamentarians, has been given half-a-dozen trains. Assam, the centre of the Modi government’s Northeast focus, has been awarded five trains.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Gujarat has, however, been given just two trains. But the state has also been chosen to be the home to India’s bold experiment with a bullet train, which is slated to run from Mumbai to Ahmedabad.

The only major state that can claim to have come off worse than Bengal is Kerala. The southern state has perennially complained that it has never come off well from railway allocations. Kerala has also never elected a legislator from the BJP to either the Assembly or the Lok Sabha.

However, Modi said that for the first time, the focus of the rail budget was on comprehensive development of the entire country.

He said the rail budget was “futuristic and growth-oriented”, adding that it marked the launch of the process of taking the country’s growth to new heights.


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