Friday, May 24

Balasore Train Tragedy: Politics Goes Off Track


Politics over human tragedy is sadly a given. The devastating train accident in Balasore, Odisha turns out to be yet another unfortunate example confirming it. The CBI investigation into the crash, which led to over 288 deaths and over a 1000 injured is furiously being questioned by the Opposition. Demanding accountability, transparency and of course Rail Minister Vaishnaw’s scalp, rivals Congress and TMC are among others terming the probe as an attempt to supress the truth. Three times Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee said: “I also gave Gyaneshwari Express case (148 lives were lost) to CBI but no result came. 12 years over but we see no result. CBI handles criminal and accident cases. The Railway Safety Commission is there.” Interestingly, Congress was on the same page. Party President Kharge has in a letter to Prime Minister Modi said the CBI is ‘meant to investigate crimes, not railway accidents. It, or any other law enforcement agency, cannot fix accountability for technical, institutional and political failures. They lack technical expertise in railway safety, signalling, and maintenance practices…the people in charge don’t want to admit there are problems”.

The train tragedy indeed is an eye-opener for all. The Opposition charge that all the empty safety claims of Railway Minister ‘stand exposed’ may not be off the mark. There is and should be serious concern among common passengers and safe travel. And while the mystery surrounding the devastating crash will take time to be solved, the Ministry must ‘prioritise installation of mandatory safety standards and equipment across railway routes to ensure safety of passengers.’ How will the CBI probe bring any clarity? Undeniably there’s need for serious introspection and there can be no two questions that there is need for a massive infrastructure upgrade of the Railways, encompassing trains, tracks and stations. Modernisation and bullet trains is all very well, but safety of lives must be top priority. Governments sadly have shown little intent to address the systemic safety malaise. A Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture had criticised the ‘complete apathy and negligence’ of the Railway Board towards recommendations of the Commission of Railway Safety and pulled up the latter. Does the ruling dispensation ever learn from mistakes, is a question which begs an honest response. Making comparison with other major accidents and counting the dead must end! Remember, a stitch in time saves nine.

Sinister Posters

Posters in some towns in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi district are far from being mischievous, rather smack of sinister intent. Early this week security had to be beefed up with communal tension refusing to ebb in Purola, Barkot and Chinyalisaur after posters came up in Hindi: “Love-jihadis are informed they should vacate their shops before the mahapanchayat to be held on June 15. If you don’t do it, then anjaam (the consequences) will depend on time.” Plus, some houses belonging to Muslims are reported to have been marked with a black cross. This after VHP and Hindu Jagriti Manch members held protests in Barkot, urging people to unite against ‘love jihad’ and ‘outsiders’. Some shops and houses belonging to minority community were also attacked following arrest of two persons, one Muslim, under POCSO for trying to abduct a minor girl from majority community end-May. Over 40 shops have since remained shut. The Uttarkashi SP told media the posters have been removed; they are trying to identify the anti-social elements and he’s not aware of any mahapanchayat proposed in Purola. Not enough. Confidence building measures is the need of the hour.

Kolhapur Protests

‘Acts of glorifying Mughal emperor Aurangzeb will not be tolerated in Maharashtra”. This message by Deputy Chief Minister Fadnavis after violent protests and stone pelting broke out in Kolhapur city on Wednesday last smacks of straight talk and no mincing of words, as the Shinde government completes once year. The protests erupted after a bandh call by pro-Hindutva outfits seeking action against objectionable social media posts by a few locals reportedly glorifying Mughal emperor Aurangzeb and 18th-century Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan, a day before. The police had to use teargas after stones were hurled at houses and vehicles damaged. So far 36 people have been arrested, and multiple cases registered. While the police claim the situation is gradually returning to normal, internet services had to be suspended and prohibitory orders issued till June 19 banning assembly of five or more persons. Politics as usual was played out, with Fadnavis wondering a link between a statement of an Opposition leader about likely riots and subsequent ‘glorification’ of Aurangzeb and Tipu Sultan. The Shinde government is conducting a probe into the incident and the administration has decided to set up separate peace committees comprising members of all communities to ensure peaceful celebration of all festivals in Kolhapur. However, NCP chief Sharad Pawar claimed “religious colour” was being given to some small issues and “the ruling parties are encouraging such things.” What’s new?

‘Bonhomie’ Over

It’s back to square one in West Bengal! The Writers Building and Raj Bhavan are at loggerheads again. “Unilateral, illegal… we won’t recognise them” is Mamata Banerjee government’s reaction to Governor Ananda Bose appointing interim V-Cs to 11 state-aided universities after the occupants completed their extended tenures. Bose, as Chancellor of all universities, is appointing them ‘without any consultation with the department’, said Education Minister, prompting the former to remind, “consultation doesn’t mean concurrence.” The bonhomie between the two sides is short lived, as was the case with Bose predecessor, Jagdeep Dhankar. Till March all was well so long as Bose agreed to extend the V-Cs term by 3 months, but after he put his foot down in May for another 6-month extension, knives were out. Bose is also being accused of delaying appointing the new State Election Commissioner. Mamata had to propose another name after the first was rejected. She awaits patiently, for how long is the big question.


Pro-Khalistan Momentum

Denial may not be a good remedy for both the Centre and Punjab government. Pro-Khalistan slogans being raised on the Golden Temple premises on Tuesday last should not be taken lightly. Many could pass it off as supporters and radical sikh outfit Dal Khalsa’s activists observing the 39th anniversary of Operation Bluestar, but there must be caution.Placards bearing portraits of slain militant leader Jarnail Singh Bhidnrawale were seen and so also Khalistani flags, slogans of ‘Khalistan Zindabad’ were also raised by activists of SAD (Amritsar) led by MP Simranjit Singh Mann and a former associate at the Akal Takht. It was reported that “the entire marbled periphery of Golden Temple near Akal Takht, the supreme temporal seat of Sikhs, echoed with pro-Khalistan slogans.’ And while the event passed off peacefully, it is no secret that Sikh radicals are trying to rake up the movement.Recall then manhunt for Sikh separatist leader Amritpal Singh and the incident at Indian High Commission in London. What’s brewing? The Akal Takht Jathedar has alleged conspiracies were being hatched to weaken the Sikh community socially, economically and politically and the community didn’t have any positive hope from successive governments. This thinking needs to be over turned. Sooner the better. —INFA

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