New Delhi, July 8: For half a decade now, it has not been possible to separate Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamul Congress from our largest enterprise, Indian Rail. She was either reading the rail budget herself, appointing proxies or dismissing them, dictating rhyme and reason, fare and freight, assuming almost proprietary jurisdiction over the nation’s prime mover.
Today was a fair exhibition they haven’t taken kindly to the lapse of reign. They came into the Lok Sabha like wound-up toys programmed to disrupt a successor act. The lectern was with rail minister Sadananda Gowda; the decibel was all Trinamul’s. For the better part, the rail budget lumbered against a hai!-hai! hail — rail mantri hai-hai, rail budget hai-hai, Narendra Modi hai-hai.
Former rail minister Mukul Roy and Trinamul spokesman Derek O’Brien, watching on intently from the Rajya Sabha gallery, may have been tempted to report back to the boss in Calcutta that their Lok Sabha contingent had done the party’s cause proud.
They had called the budget a sellout to private corporate groups, and not hesitated to name which one particularly: first-generation Gujarati magnate Gautam Adani whose air fleet gave Narendra Modi the campaign vehicle for his prime ministerial run. “De do, de do, bech do Adani ko,” hooted Kalyan Banerjee when Gowda began to justify the need to woo private partnership. “Sab Adani ko de do, sab Adani ka.” (Give it all away to Adani, go on give it, it is all for Adani).
They had called the budget “not Indian” and made out it had been tailored to suit merely the Gujarat-Maharashtra-Karnataka corridor. “Where is the rest of the country in this? Only Gujarat and Bombay and Karnataka, where is the rest of the country?” Saugata Roy protested. “The country has been forgotten, railways is for India, not for one part of it.”
They had called the budget “anti-east India” and “anti-Bengal” and called it Narendra Modi’s revenge for not securing enough Lok Sabha seats from the state.
Someone in the Trinamul benches had been enterprising enough to pick out Babul Supriyo, hunkered in the treasury back rows, and pass on his location to Kalyan Banerjee, easily the most outraged and bellicose in the Trinamul ranks today. “O Babul, kothaay? Tomakeyo kichhu dilo naa, kichhu peli? Kichhu to holo naa tomaar,” Banerjee needled the BJP debutant from Asansol. “(O Babul, where are you? Did you get anything? He gave nothing to you either, you got nothing.)”
Babul ducked momentarily but recovered quickly to counsel Banerjee to calm down. None of that was going to work today, not on the Trinamul benches clearly enacting a command performance. “Where is the Calcutta Metro, where is the Metro?” Banerjee screamed, “Because Bengal rebuffed Narendra Modi, Narendra Modi has rebuffed Bengal, this is Narendra Modi and this is his politics, Narendra Modi, hai-hai!”
They were in the well of the House, about to trigger a chain of events that would halt business and bring an early end to proceedings. Across the table from where they stood, Modi was patting Gowda on the back, unmindful of the Trinamul fracas, indifferent to their invective. Never mind, Modi seemed to be telling his rail minister, they’ve had more than their turn at the job, you’ve begun well.
For close to two decades now, no man from anywhere south of the Vindhyas had been entrusted the rail budget; the last was C.K. Jaffer Sharief, Gowda’s Kannadiga country cousin. Most of that time, Rail Bhavan had remained an eastern monopoly — Mamata, Ram Vilas Paswan, Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad, Dinesh Trivedi, Mukul Roy — all of 20 years between them but for interim shifts by Ram Naik (BJP) and Pawan Bansal and Mallikarjun Kharge. It must hurt some the job has travelled south. It must also hurt fares and freight have travelled north. The Trinamul, though, was only hurting not enough was travelling east.