The Congress, which has been a strident critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s development paradigm and has often argued that wrong priorities had clouded his vision, on Saturday hinted that rail safety was getting ignored in the propaganda of Vande Bharat and bullet trains.
The party leadership, however, restrained itself from criticising the government for one of the worst accidents in the history of Indian Railways and instead asked its state governments and workers to reach Balasore in Odisha to help the victims.
However, it insisted there were several questions to be asked of the Prime Minister and the railway minister.
Party’s communications chief Jairam Ramesh tweeted: “The rail crash in Odisha is truly horrendous. It is a matter of the greatest anguish. It reinforces why SAFETY should always be the foremost priority in the functioning of the rail network. There are many legitimate questions that need to be raised but that should wait till tomorrow.”
The Congress has on several occasions in the past said that railway safety and recruitment of personnel to run the system had taken a back seat under the Modi government. It described bullet trains as a waste of resources and a vanity project like the Central Vista and demanded the huge investment of Rs 1 lakh crore in the bullet train project to be utilised to enhance safety systems.
An anti-collision device was developed in 2012 but its implementation wasn’t carried out in right earnest. The Modi government renamed it Kavach (armour) and started field trials in 2016. Reports suggested that barely 2 per cent of the rail network had been covered by Kavach till 2022-23 and the trains that collided in Odisha on Friday didn’t have this safety device.
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said the situation was worrisome and he had several questions to ask but declared that the need of the hour was rescue and relief. While he sent senior leader Adhir Chowdhury and Odisha Congress leaders to the spot, Karnataka and Chhattisgarh offered help to Odisha. But Kharge hinted at displeasure with the Centre, requesting the Prime Minister and the railway minister to introspect why such accidents happen.
The Congress has been critical of the Prime Minister’s penchant for publicity and event management, often criticising him for wasting time on inaugural events instead of ensuring that safety was made the top priority. Modi wandered across the country to inaugurate metro rail and Vande Bharat trains and boasted of a significant reduction in train accidents without the speedy execution of the Kavach project.
Rahul Gandhi, a fierce critic of bullet trains, also avoided any blame game by restricting his reaction to an expression of condolence: “Anguished by the tragic news of the accident involving the Coromandel Express, in Balasore, Odisha. My heart goes out to the bereaved families. Wishing for the speedy recovery of those injured. I urge Congress workers & leaders to extend all support.”