I Came, I Saw, I Conquered

railways.jpgI can still recollect each line of the poem I wrote for a competition a few years back. A poem, laced with sarcasm and satire, about Laloo and his involvement in the fodder scam. However, what I cannot recount is the same hatred for the corrupted, incapable and anarchic minister from the state of Bihar, that I had for him when I wrote the poem. His term as the Union Railways Minister has changed the opinions of all his critics including me.

In 2004, a visibly tensed Laloo tried very hard to make it to the 14th Lok Sabha elections, and succeeded. This is when the alliances between the political parties happened, following which the RJD swept away with 24 seats in the elections. The RJD, thus, emerged as the largest party after CPI (M) in the INC led UPA. Thus, began the negotiations for key portfolios and Laloo got his first date with the Central Ministry as the Union Railways Minister, which was like being at the helm of a ship with multiple fissures. The Rakesh Mohan Committee had already announced Indian Railways as a white elephant waiting to die of bankruptcy by 2015 and competition by low fare airlines and roadways was at its peak.

Mr. Prasad accepted the post gracefully and presented his first budget in 2004 with equal grace, though the Opposition walked out from the Budget session. His very first budget made a much anticipated bang in the political circles. Accused of delivering a populist budget and criticized for failing to suggest a policy change to combat the ever increasing losses, Laloo got all what he expected.He, however, didn’t lose his cool and kept his team of bureaucrats busy in carving out solutions to make the railways the best example for all Government undertakings. With the Budget 2005, he stunned everyone with the results! While there was a whopping increase of 7.67% in the freight volumes, an increase of 6% in passenger fare was recorded too, as against the targeted 3%, and all this inspite of no increase in fares of any kind!

And thus began the Cinderella story for the Indian railways: profits began to pour in heavily and many projects saw the light of the day. It was a miraculous feat achieved by a man who had little trust or popular support. He was successful in turning the fate of the Railways. Now it has become routine of the sorts, come the end of financial year, and Laloo’s Railway Ministry speaks of the same results before the house- increase in profit, new projects in the offing, but no increase in fares. In each budget, all one could see was the amount of profits and indomitable milestones that the Indian railways had achieved. In the year 2006-2007, the Indian Railways garnered a profit of Rs. 20,000 crores. And, a remarkable increase of 17%, 14%, 18% and 11% respectively in freight earnings, passenger earnings, coach earnings and sundry earnings. If you say it is east and the Opposition knows it is east, it will nevertheless, deny it is east. Laloo is often criticized for giving his home state more advantages and packages in his capacity as the Union Railways Minister. 23 out of 55 new trains were started from Bihar. It got four new ‘garib raths’ and an extension of several other trains. In order to woo the important constituent of his party’s electorate, the Muslims, he started ‘khwaja garib nawaj’ trains from three destinations in Bihar to the shrine of ‘Khwaja garib nawaj’ in Ajmer. However, he was successful in surviving the competition faced from the roadways and airlines by increasing volumes and decreasing fares, which was the need of the hour.He was appreciated for his extraordinary feats; NASCOM recognized his efforts, the association of software companies in India awarded him the IT Transformation award in 2007 for exploiting information technology by way of online reservations, information kiosks and call center facility to benefit the passengers. And, what’s more, he was invited by institutes like Harvard and IIMs to deliver lectures on his management skills and success, in what others would have believed to be, an unachievable task.However, his getting success and popularity as the Union Minister is a sign of danger for both the BJP & its allies and the Congress. While both will face the consequences in the assembly elections due in Bihar, Congress may lose all grounds in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections of 2009 as well. RJD, along with other allies of UPA, have rendered an ultimatum to the Congress for accepting their demand of making a regional leader as the Prime minister.

They have announced loud and clear that Congress should support their alliance either outside the coalition or as a part of the Government, as they think that a disinterested electorate in a Congress Prime Minister will make them incapable of containing the BJP in the forthcoming elections.Now, whatever be the emerging equations in the Lok Sabha elections of 2009, one thing is for sure. I won’t ever write any derogatory poem against the man who turned a ruined Government enterprise into a profit-making entity. As I wait for our Dear Railway Minister to announce the increased profits and the new projects to be undertaken in the Budget this week, I am most certain of a positive outcome.

Monica Verma

[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kalyan3/2170738625/]