As the new hiked railway fares (for the privileged classes) come into force from today, I am again reminded of the melodrama over the railway budget. And while much of the fizz was taken out of it once Dinesh Trivedi resigned and Mukul Roy was sworn in as the next Railway Minister, I can’t help but look back at the real game that had followed. The first thing that Roy did after taking to the hot seat was to roll back the upward revision of passenger fares for lower strata announced by his humiliated predecessor. The most apt gesture from the lieutenant of the only “people’s Chief Minister” of India! The easiest way to project oneself as being sympathetic towards the downtrodden.
But that is old news, right?
What is new here is the fine print — in reality, the real have-nots do not travel by train and hence were not really affected by the hikes.
According to the Anil Kakodkar Report on High Level Safety, the Indian Railways carry about 20 million people every day, which is about one-fiftieth of the total population of India. So, we can safely say that a miniscule of our population would have been affected by the across-the-board hike in the railway ticket fare as was proposed by Trivedi. The rest of the population has very little or nothing to do with the rail fare increase.
Would the hikes actually have affected their lives? Questionable. And there is yet another slightly interesting angle to the whole thing. And this where the game gets interesting.
Even a slight upward hike in railway freight rates affects close to 1 billion Indians. Each one of us, even those who may not have seen a train in their entire lives, leave alone traveling in one, feels the pinches of price rise of daily commodities.
So, what happens to the increased in freight rates?
When faced with the question of rolling back the freight enhancement, the same “people’s Chief Minister” said she did not know about the freight hikes that they came into effect just days ahead of the Railway Budget. And the brand new rail minister, while playing his Didi’s populist card to perfection, said the freight rates were not part of the Railway Budget.
Should we clap at this hypocrisy? Has Mr Mukul Roy been made the railway minister just as in-charge of the Railway Budget? Or is he the head of the entire railways department?
If this isn’t hypocrisy what is? Are we to believe that Ms Banerjee is ignorant of the impact that increased freight charges would have on the prices of food and other goods of daily consumption? Is she oblivious to the fact that hike in freight charges impacts the lives of those very people that she advocates to champion? How can someone, who claims to have the support of the people, be so insensitive to the well-being of those very people?
Ms Banerjee or her cronies will of course not answer any of these questions. Of late, she has chosen to brand anyone who asks uncomfortable questions as a conspirator.
Well, I am not one. I am just a common man (in our chief minister’s lingo!), a middle class common man (!), who may perhaps take the increased railway fares in his/her stride. But yes, the brunt of the enhanced freight rates will hurt me a lot. I want the “people’s Chief Minister” to answer.
It is time the bluff of the “people’s Chief Minister” is called off. It is time she is told, in no uncertain terms, that she should stop shedding crocodile tears for the poorest of the poor. It is time people realised that she is no defender of the disadvantaged — a person anxious about retaining power and its associated perks. And in her pursuit of power she would not mind doing a few antics even if that meant bringing the efficacy of the Indian democracy to question.
It is time we realised each one of us needs to be wary of her and make every effort to defeat her anti-poor, anti-people policies.