| Laloo Prasad in his office on Monday. (PTI)
New Delhi, May 24: Laloo Prasad Yadav has announced he will be railway minister of India, not Bihar. If you want to raise a toast to the minister for Bharat, the cup that cheers will have to be earthen.
This is a new Laloo Prasad, a green — environment-friendly, that is — one. That is all right. Even food served on or packed in sal leaves, which he hinted at, may be all right.
But what has rail officials worried is the promise of special — does it mean free' Laloo Prasad did not explain — passes for freedom fighters, senior citizens and — guess what — accredited journalists too.
They have also been left wondering about a comment he made about taking care that lower-class fares are not raised.
Worry not, however, that Laloo Prasad will be the rail minister of Madhepura, or Chhapra, whichever he wins or if he wins both. Nor even will he be the rail minister of Bihar.
“Now entire India — north, south, east and west — is my constituency,” he said.
On his first day as minister, the Bihar leader promised his “south Indian brothers” that the region would not be neglected, taking note of a complaint that part of the country had often been overlooked by the ministry.
Rail ministers in the past, from Ghani Khan Chowdhury to Mamata Banerjee and Ram Vilas Paswan, have been known to use the portfolio to please their constituencies.
Parochialism then is on its way out, as is plastic. Tea and coffee will be served in “kullarhs” (earthen cups) and, possibly, food on sal leaves.
Laloo Prasad made all the right noises, vowing to stress on safety, punctuality and a corruption-free railway.
“Rail is our oldest mode of transport since British days and the safety of the railways and its passengers will be our top priority,” he said after taking charge along with deputies Narayan Bhai Rathwa and R. Velu.
But not one to let go an opportunity to play to the gallery, Laloo Prasad included journalists among those eligible for special passes because they are his “intelligence bureau”. “I don’t need IB…. One day I will become Prime Minister and then do away with IB,” he joked.
But Laloo Prasad clarified that new projects would be taken up only after those started by his predecessors Ram Vilas Paswan and Nitish Kumar were completed.
He also refused to commit himself to introducing more special trains like Rajdhani and Shatabdi, saying: “We will discuss the matter after reviewing the entire operations keeping in mind the requirement of the railways.”
The first-time Union minister said: “Right now we will strengthen this government and after five years, approach people to vote for us on the basis of our performance.”
Responsibility would be fixed from “top to bottom” and adequate measures taken to modernise the railway. Laloo Prasad promised “quick” rescue and relief operations in the wake of accidents.
Himself an accused in the multi-crore fodder scam case, the minister pledged to fight corruption in the railway. Steps would be taken to stop the “mafia” from getting railway contracts, he said.
“Officials would be punished if complaints are received about late running of trains,” he said, promising to find a solution to the delay caused by natural calamities and fog.
The minister said he would be visit trains, stations and other railway establishments incognito to keep tabs on the department’s functioning.
Laloo Prasad said he would write to all MPs to send their requirements. “I will write letters to all MPs seeking their suggestions on the railway for their constituencies/areas. We will provide trains to the remotest areas where the railway has not reached yet,” he said, repeating that the railway was for everybody — north, south, east and west.
But his ally Ram Vilas Paswan, who had been tipped to get the railway portfolio but was handed steel instead, was not impressed. “I know people in bihar are sore over my not getting railways as this ministry (steel) is not directly connected with the masses.”
But he added: “Let bygones be bygones. One should take a fresh look at things.”