The railways on Friday were scalded by controversy after social media erupted with photographs of teacups served on the Delhi-Kathgodam Shatabdi Express emblazoned with the tagline “Main bhi chowkidar” — Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rallying cry for the general election.
The image on the teacup -— deftly melding the twin identities of chaiwallah and chowkidar that Modi had assumed during the 2014 election and again this year — embarrassed the railways. They scrambled to slap a penalty of Rs 1 lakh on the private vendor who had served the teacups to passengers.
One passenger tweeted the image of the paper cup, which immediately went viral. Multiple tweets tagged the Election Commission to draw its attention to the violation of the model code of conduct, in force since March 10. The Election Commission did not immediately respond to the alerts.
The railways were quick to shift the blame to the private catering vendor, who had accepted an advertisement from Sankalp Foundation, a Pune-registered NGO.
“The incident did happen today but the teacups were immediately withdrawn. Penal action is being taken against the contractor. Action is also being taken against the supervisor,” the railway ministry said.
A spokesperson for the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Ltd (IRCTC) said a private player had been given the catering contract for the Shatabdi Express. Under the licensee arrangement, the contractor can monetise available spaces on teacups and serviettes by accepting advertisements.
“The licensees are supposed to take prior permission from the IRCTC for printing advertisements,” the spokesperson said. “But in this case, no such approval was taken.”
Besides the fine, the IRCTC has issued a showcause notice to the vendor. But it wasn’t immediately clear whether the notice carried the threat of terminating the contract.
“These lapses were overlooked by the on-board supervisory staff/pantry-in-charges. An explanation has been sought from the on-board supervisory staff/pantry-in-charges for their carelessness. (A) few cups were used, only today and only for a very short period. The cups have since been withdrawn,” the railways said.
This is not an isolated incident or a storm in a teacup. Before the cup controversy, the railways were embroiled in another poll code violation for issuing tickets with Modi’s pictures on them. At that time, they had pleaded an “unintentional and inadvertent mistake”. The railways withdrew the tickets carrying Modi’s photos after the Trinamul Congress complained to the Election Commission.
Two days ago, GoAir and Air India ran into trouble when passengers complained about boarding passes that bore photos of Modi and Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani. Both airlines withdrew these passes and claimed they had been inadvertently used.
A GoAir spokesperson said the airline’s “Srinagar Airport team inadvertently utilised unused stock of paper related to the event Vibrant Gujarat, which was held from January 18 to 20, for issuing boarding passes at the said airport. It was unintentional. We have instructed our airport teams to stop utilising this type of paper with immediate effect.”
On Monday, Air India spokesperson Dhananjay Kumar said the boarding passes seemed to have been printed during the Vibrant Gujarat Summit in January.
“The rolls seem to be the ones left over from the boarding passes printed during the Vibrant Gujarat Summit and the photos are third-party advertisements. It has nothing to do with Air India,” he said.
Such tickets seem to be still in circulation. On Friday, an Air India passenger from Madurai in Tamil Nadu tweeted the image of a boarding pass that carried pictures of Modi and Rupani. The airline blamed an apparent human error and said the airport manager had been showcaused, PTI reported.