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Monday, February 14, 2005

of bullets and ballot boxes

The rail budget of 2004-2005 proposes to introduce bullet trains running at 250 to 300 Kms per hour between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, in the first instance. There are also plans of introducing super-super-super fast express trains linking the capital New Delhi with Howrah and Chennai. Such announcements need to be examined in the light of an ongoing exercise of the Indian Railways regarding identifying non-profitable rail links initiated at the instance of Railway Ministers over the years with an eye on the vote banks. It is understood that the figure (of un-necessary rail links) is of the order of 10%. It is expected that withdrawal of these trains and the resultant savings it will generate in direct and indirect costs will help the authorities to streamline the balance sheets.

When one talks of bullets, ones mind goes off to the peak of the Naxalite movement in Bengal. The wordings of a poster that used to be frequently seen, in those days, went as follows: ‘Independence flows through the barrel of a gun.’ Subsequently, we have been treated to innumerable visuals of people who, for suitable compensation in cash or in kind, would assist the Political candidate to secure a mandate in his favor by displaying an arsenal that would put our law enforcers to shame – bullets, it is rumored, can win ballots. All such dealings used to be extremely hush-hush, the coverage ensured that the faces were always hidden behind blankets and mufflers. Some of the states are notorious for sheltering such people who, thanks to existing laws and their interpretation of the learned lawyers, refuse to acknowledge that a crime has been committed unless the suspect is apprehended committing the crime – this presupposes that there has to be a group of persons who are capable of knowing beforehand that a crime is about to be committed and is available at the location armed with mobile outdoor vans, to record each second of the crime. Even then, doubts may be planted in the minds of the investigators as to whether someone else’s face has been superimposed to implicate an innocent leader of the masses!

The fact remains that bullets are not dangerous – depending on their end use. They are nothing but a means to the end, so far as rail travel is concerned. Being the proud owners of such trains will be an achievement in itself and, if we can maintain the tracks and its surroundings to accommodate such trains, we will rise in stature in the eyes of our neighbors.

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