Thursday, March 15, 2012

Larger Questions need to be asked.

I have been watching the debate on the Railway budget over the last two days. I cannot point a single media channel or speaker speaking on the merits of the issues at hand. While in all cases the India inc. representing corporate India and the eager to identify with the rich "aspirational middle class" hog the media limelight and claim that the "jholawallas" by any name reds or TMCites are on opposite sides, the big question is does this government or any care for the national carrier the railways. I am not an economist well versed with the nuances of budget making, however it seems a fact that the railways being a cheap mode of transport has come at this price over the years by the massive concessions offered to the public at large. On the other hand the services and safety aspects have been given a short shrift and today the number of accidents and deaths are reaching unacceptable numbers. Daily loss of lives on the Mumbai suburban network alone is about ten. The level of hygiene, food served and quality of service even in the top trains is nowhere near world class. Most of us accepted this due to our typical "chalta hai" attitude and because the services came cheap.

Every year budgets are made, the railway minister is the king or queen of her ministry, distributing largesse to her constituents and the train services are doled out. Some cosmetic changes are made and figures conjured to give us a rosy picture. A few years back a Laloo Yadav went to Harvard to teach the Americans how to make profit in a welfare ministry. So what is going wrong?? It seems a clear case of short sighted leadership and working without a vision. Now to give credit where it is due, this government in this budget took into consideration the reports of its committees which suggested massive investment to improve services and safety. The money for the same has been given to the railways by the Government in the form of a loan at 8.5% interest. While lakhs of crores are needed the money raised through fare hikes is a mere 6-7000 crores which is like small change. So why this hullabaloo?? Corporate India will tomorrow receive massive doles and largess es for which they lobby, cajole, threaten and even outright bribe the powers that be, and the same media will sing paeans of praise for the reformist budget of Pranobda. Nobody will question these doles but everyone is up in arms when a mere 3000 crore roll back is demanded from this government. Over the last few years the cost of living has gone up exponentially and these fare hikes and debates are just playing with the lives of the poor and political games with the least regard for the country. I am increasingly coming around to a view that Manmohan Singh and his government policies are dictated by corporates and they are increasing disparities which are unprecedented in the life of this nation. We have left Gandhi and his ideals far behind and we live in hope that at least some day we will get a government and a media which addresses these larger questions than have a railway minister while spouting patriotic sentiments talking of losing his job in the same vein as Bhagat Singh making the supreme sacrifice for his country.

So let us ask our leaders to lead the country and not their parties. Let them heed the voices and demands of the silent majority at the bottom of the pyramid and for a change ignore the shouting corporate voices.

Vispi Jokhi

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