The Congress on Saturday said the "horrendous" train accident in Odisha reinforces why safety should always be the foremost priority and asserted that there are many questions to ask of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw but those can wait as the immediate task is of rescue and relief.
Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge has deputed the party's leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and AICC Odisha in-charge A Chella Kumar to immediately visit the accident site to take stock of the situation and oversee the relief efforts being undertaken by its workers and frontal organisations, AICC general secretary (organisation) KC Venugopal said.
In a statement, Kharge said, "At this moment of grave national tragedy on account of the terrible train disaster in Odisha, I have instructed the entire Congress party organisation to extend all possible help." A number of Congress leaders from different states have either already reached or will soon reach Balasore, he said, and extended heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families.
"We have many questions to ask of the prime minister and the railway minister but those can wait since the immediate task is of rescue and relief," Kharge said.
The accident in which three trains rammed into each other in a rapid sequence of events in Odisha's Balasore district killed at least 261 people and injured nearly 1,000 in one of the country's worst railway tragedies.
Jairam Ramesh, the Congress general secretary, said in a tweet that the train accident in Odisha is truly horrendous and 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," Ramesh tweeted.
Some Congress leaders also called for Vaishnaw's resignation.
Tagging a tweet by Vaishnaw on ex-gratia compensation to the victims, Saptagiri Ulaka, the Congress MP from Odisha, said, "You should resign first." Ask some person to investigate the reason for this mishap and do course corrections as well as ensure support to the injured, the MP said.
"Avoid such insensitive tweets at times of pain, anger and deep personal loss," Ulaka added.
Gurdeep Singh Sappal, co-ordinator in the Congress president's office, said, "Resignation in such cases is expected not just on moral grounds. Resignation is also a means to ensure that those in power and accountability for the accident do not influence such 'high level enquiry'." "That's why the norm is that the officers in the chain of command are suspended and the minister resigns!" he said.
Congress Parliamentary Party chairperson Sonia Gandhi said she was most pained and anguished by the terrible train disaster in Odisha.
"I extend my deepest sympathy and condolences to all the bereaved families," she said in a statement.
Kharge and former party chief Rahul Gandhi on Friday night expressed sadness over the tragedy and urged party workers and leaders to extend all support needed for the rescue efforts.
Meanwhile, the Congress' media and publicity department head Pawan Khera said the party has decided not to participate in any TV debates on Saturday evening on account of the tragedy.
"This is the time to come together and stand by the grieving families. The Congress Party has decided not to participate in any TV debates this evening on account of the ghastly train tragedy in Odisha," Khera said on Twitter.
"Our heartfelt condolences are with the families of those who lost their valuable lives," he said.
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