Mamata Banerjee on Sunday tore into the “shameful and condemnable” propaganda being peddled by the saffron ecosystem in the wake of the Balasore triple-train accident, with allegedly fabricated death tolls of train accidents while she, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav were Union railway ministers.
The Bengal chief minister voluntarily broached the subject during an urgently convened news conference on Sunday evening to say that the saffron camp rarely ever ceased to amaze with their ability to stoop low, even in times of grave human tragedy.
“It is most unfortunate, but the BJP has compelled me to bring this up. I didn’t want to make political statements as of now, but I feel forced to clarify this. Today (Sunday), I received a fake message, which could be the handiwork of the Centre, via somebody, or it could simply be done by BJP. It had mention of fake death tolls occurring in the tenure of previous Union railway ministers, Nitish Kumar, Lalu Yadav, and myself,” said Mamata, apparently referring to some figures put out in a tweet by the BJP’s IT cell chief Amit Malviya, the party’s Bengal co-minder.
Lavishing praise on Union railway minister Ashwini Vaishnaw and steps for passenger safety under him, Malviya mounted a scathing offensive on the trio for having apparently “demanded” the present minister’s resignation.
While Mamata’s nephew and Trinamul Congress national general-secretary Abhishek Banerjee did demand Vaishnaw’s resignation, she did not.
On Sunday, she specified: “I don’t want the Union railway minister to resign, he and his government would soon get a (termination) letter from the people, in the general election.”
Maviya’s tweet claimed there had been 1,451 deaths in train collisions or derailments during Mamata’s tenure at the helm of the ministry, 1,527 during JDU chief Nitish’s term and 1,159 during that of RJD chief Lalu.
All the three leaders are fervent critics of the BJP-led government at the Centre now, but much of Mamata’s stint and all of Nitish’s tenure as the Union railway minister had been as BJP allies in the National Democratic Alliance.
The Trinamul chief said she crosschecked the numbers and found serious discrepancies, with the figures grossly exaggerated, and called out the saffron camp’s attempts to discredit its critics, irrespective of their credentials.
“These politicians have no shame, it was because of my efforts that we modernised the Indian railways and that is the reason why we have few accidents these days. We have brought in manned crossings, a new signalling system and anti-collision devices,” the Trinamul supremo said.
“I also wish to ask those making these false claims, have they forgotten Godhra? Instead of this ridiculous whataboutery, they should go and help the people,” the Bengal chief minister said, referring to the case of arson on a running train that allegedly triggered the 2002 Gujarat riots when Narendra Modi was chief minister.
“We all remember Godhra, how a running train was set on fire. How many people died? Have these politicians ever thought about that, or disclosed the number of deaths?” added Mamata.
She accused the Centre of trying to lower the death toll of Friday’s accident.
“The current government is trying to reduce the number of deaths.... Over 60 per cent of those in hospitals are critical. This is the biggest railway accident in recent times, the least they can do is apologise, but they won’t,” said Mamata. “Whenever a disaster happens, people should work together. But this government is trying to absolve itself of the responsibility, suppress their mistakes, highlight alleged, fabricated mistakes of others, while wasting time on whataboutery.”
She said the big sums of taxpayers’ money that the BJP government spent on “personal vanity” could have gone towards the upgrade of the railways, or to farmers, panchayati raj and social welfare schemes.
“Those who play with death and politicise tragedies, it is shameful and condemnable. They are busy maligning ex-railway ministers who have nothing to do with Friday’s accident. What next? Find people to blame from the Battle of Plassey (1757), the Great Rebellion (1857), World War I (1914-18), World War II (1939-45)?” she asked.
Malviya tweeted again.
“Mamata Banerjee’s rise in politics has been over dead bodies.... From Singur to post poll violence of 2021, all she has done is indulged in dirty politics of death and destruction,” he tweeted.
“She is clearly frustrated after the railways minister thwarted her attempts to inflate casualty numbers (in Balasore), that too in full media glare (she had no business addressing the media when rescue operation was on besides being wrong on facts on multiple counts), prompting her to rake up the tragic train burning in Godhra, at a time when GoI is focused on providing relief and bringing things back on track,” he added. “But then that is Mamata Banerjee — petty and petulant.”