A quick rollback of the Railway Budget – new minister Mukul Roy will toe Mamta’s line

This has been a very surprising and strange week in Indian politics. In today’s world, with coalition politics, you can see the pressure that the Prime Minister faces, and the PM has mentioned this a number of times already – with statements to the effect that the pressure of coalition politics puts pressure against taking hard decisions. Consider the current situation – the Congress party has had to back-pedal on many laws / policies that it believes is for the public good (or will project the Congress as a party of reform). Examples abound such as the Lokpal Bill, the National Counter Terrorism Center, FDI in retail, Pension Bill, etc. In many cases, the Congress has got support from the BJP for many reform oriented proposals, but the partners of the Congress would not allow these bills to be enacted (consider the case of the proposed Pension law, or some other reform laws).
It is now becoming clear that the Congress Government is reconciled with the fact that there will be only very gradual changes that it can make, with only populist measures being such that they will get support. You only have to see the case of the current Railway Budget. For many years now, the Railways has been seen to be a resource drain on the general budget, not able to generate revenue of its own (and even the acclaimed time of Laloo Prasad Yadav when the Railways was seen to have a surplus is derided as creative accounting); conditions in the Railways are pretty bad. Mamta Banerjee was the last minister who was presenting the Railway Budget, and she seemed to consider this as the Railway Budget for Bengal rather than for the country. The current situation was that the Railways has a pretty bad reputation in terms of the number of accidents that happen and where people die, where the condition of facilities at the train stations and in the trains is pretty bad, where the website of the Railways can be slow or non-working for days and nobody really seems to care, and so on. Food in even the prestigious Shatabdi is pretty bad, with days when the food is good being counted as a bonus.

For many years now, the Railways has not increased fares, even though inflation and increase in input costs must be causing huge problems to the finances of this great institution of India. In fact, if you consider the ongoing needs for maintenance, and for adding new networks, the budget is in deep financial trouble (and we are not even considering the comparison with China that is set on developing a strong railway network in all parts of the country). So, when the previous Railway Minister came in with a budget that increased fares, and placed some emphasis on setting the Railways on a more safe and secure future, Dinesh Tivedi got a lot of praise. He also had the misfortune of being probably the first minister to have his own party say that they want the minister to resign. The Prime Minister, who had praised the budget, accepted that Mamta Banerjee had the right to have the person of her choice be the Railway Minister; and this also meant that the fare increase in the budget would be rolled back; the new minister Mukul Roy has already proposed that the only increase will now be in AC 1 and 2 Tier, and all other sections will be saved of any fare increase.
The net effect is that now the Prime Minister is essentially the leader of only the ministers who belong to the Congress, and ministers belonging to other parties can do what they want, as long as they have the acceptance of their party chiefs. In this one gesture, Mamta Banerjee has further exposed the total weakness of the Congress in being able to stand up for what is right; this will put further pressure on any remaining credibility that the Prime Minister and the Congress has.

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