Trithesh Nandan/Zee Research Group/ Delhi
In 2004, when the UPA government came to power, the then Railway Minister, Lalu Yadav, rose to the occasion. Yadav’s budget speech in Bhojpuri accent had a special focus on his state as well as serving his political constituency.
This continued for another five years, when Bihar got slew of projects like Jamalpur workshop, a new wheel factory at Chhapra, and the Harnaut coach maintenance workshop in Nalanda. Not only projects, but Bihar even got a number of trains during Lalu’s tenure. Bihar was the flavour of the season.
Actually, Lalu followed his predecessors, Ramvilas Paswan and Nitish Kumar’s footsteps, who during the NDA government in late 1990s and early 2000s gave substantial number of trains and rail projects to the state.
It was West Bengal which was the cynosure of the rail ministry when Mamata Banerjee took charge as Railway Minister in 2009. The 2011-2012 rail budget was termed as ‘Bengal Budget’. In the last two-decade, the regional satraps who became ministers hardly presented a pan-India budget. It looked like they were running the ministry as their own fiefdom and serving their own constituencies.
When Pawan Kumar Bansal became Railway Minister in 2013, he not only gave Chandigarh more trains but also focused projects in Rae Bareli, Sonia Gandhi’s constituency. The opposition was quick to term Bansal’s rail budget as ‘Rae Bareli budget’. Mallikarjun Kharge, who became the minister after Bansal had to leave unceremoniously, saw him focusing closely on his home state Karnataka during election year.
All of them presented the rail budget with one leg in Lok Sabha and another one in their home state. Over the years, in the coalition politics era, rail budget and serving state constituency became part of ‘coalition dharma’.
But is there a whiff of change now?
With only one premium train for Bengaluru (Karnataka) to Kamakhya (Assam), four express (Bengaluru – Mangalore Express, Bengaluru – Shimoga Express, Bidar – Mumbai Express, Tatanagar – Bengaluru Express) and three passenger trains (Dharwad (Karnataka) – Dandeli (North Karnataka), Byndoor (Karnataka) – Kasaragod (Kerala), Yesvantpur (Karnataka) – Tumkur (Karnataka)) for his state, this budget seems quite different from other rail ministers’ budget. Karnataka did not get the same attention as other railway ministers have done in the last two decades to their respective states.
Maharashtra, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have got more trains than the Railway Minister’s home state.
As part of strengthening the sub-urban railway in Bengaluru, a study to explore the possibility of enhancing the existing network has been initiated. This effort would meet the bustling business activity which attracts large commuters from surrounding rural areas and towns to the city.
At the end of the budget, Gowda even recalled verse of Kannada poet DV Gundappa who said, “If someone points at some shortcoming, I have an open mind to correct.”