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Since 1st March, 1999
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Mamataji, I smell jealousy
My turn

Lalu Prasad

I hate to say this but Mamataji’s budget appears to me to be inspired by a complex kind of jealousy towards what I achieved in my years as rail minister.

A lot of what she has claimed as new is a duplication of what I had already done, a lot of it is an unrealistic effort to over-reach herself in order to prove that she can better me. I do not know why but I get a strong sense that she wants to show she is smarter. All the best to her, may she rise much taller than me.

The Indian Railways is very close to my heart and I wish the railway and the new rail minister all success in their efforts. But plans should bear some relation to reality — how are you going to run a train non-stop between Delhi and Chennai or even Delhi and Calcutta? Is it even technically possible? Besides, what’s the need for bypassing all those who fall on the way?

I may be wrong but I also do not understand the wisdom of starting these double-decker trains between cities either. There are bridges, overhead wires, often tunnels; Mamataji should have told us where these double-deckers are going to run and how. It is fine to make fanciful announcements, quite another thing to implement them.

I can understand she was short on time, but that is no excuse for announcing measures that have not been properly thought out. She has talked airily about making world class stations — she has pointedly left Patna out, but that is another matter — but what are these stations all about? There is no clarity. There is much bluster in this budget, very little basis.

Personally, I think I have a right to feel hurt because Bihar has been largely ignored, trains are going to pass through big cities like Patna now on their way to Calcutta without even stopping. Patna people will stand and do “Ok, Tata”, that’s all. Bengal has got a lot, but then all rail ministers do something special for their constituency and state and that is understandable, no quarrels with that.

But a lot of her announcements had already been made by me earlier. Several new trains announced today are a straight lift from my list, the Patna-Ranchi Janshakti and the Patna-Jhajha Express for instance. Aircraft-like vacuum pressure toilets for trains is something I have talked about and begun implementing. The western and eastern rail corridors are something we had initiated and work is already in progress on some sections. It’s almost a naughty thought but it could well be true that in their rush officers have just handed her plans that were already underway in my time, a lot of what she read out today was my work.

She appears to have said a few unkind things about unrealistic financial targets set by me. I would only respond by pointing out my balance sheets — a record cash surplus of Rs 91,577 crore. That is unprecedented. People in Harvard and Wharton and IIMs are no fools to have made the railways under me the subject of such interest and appreciation.

What we did attracted world-wide notice in addition to producing huge profits for a concern that experts like Rakesh Mohan had almost condemned as bankrupt and terminally ill. We achieved a big and quick turnaround and that has now become a tough act to follow.

I wish Mamataji well in her efforts because the Indian Railways is critical to the people of this country but I do not see any remarkable thing in this budget.

Many people are telling me that I should be worried about the white paper Mamataji has talked about, especially because she has mentioned the last five years, when I was railway minister. I am being told that she is going to review my decisions, how they were taken, why they were taken. Sure, if she wants to.

But why should I be worried? Have I committed any fraud? Is pulling the railway out of deep mess an act of fraud? Is securing profits an act of fraud? Is setting the railway on the road to expansion and modernisation an act of fraud? Why the need for this white paper on my years as railway minister? All our records are transparent. All accounts have been scrutinised by the CAG, they are before Parliament and various committees of government. I have nothing to hide, I have a lot to be proud of.

But to be frank, and fair, I do not even know what Mamataji is thinking, what’s on her mind, and I do not want to impute motives without having any real basis. For all you know, it could be that she has referred to the last five years because she wants to make that the template or the role model for drafting her vision for the railway by 2020. Why must I assume it is a move aimed at me? Mamataji may well have a huge compliment to me on her mind. That will be well deserved.

(As told to Sankarshan Thakur)

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