Context matters. In a ministry that has for long been home to populist ministers, it matters even more. On Friday, when railways minister Mamata Banerjee presents the rail budget, chances are that she will unleash a rash of “happy” measures. These may range from cheap passenger tickets to more trains.
Her predecessor Lalu Prasad, too, had populist ideas, but he took care that they were funded in a manner that did not harm the railways to an unconscionable extent. During his time, India had perhaps the best growth run in its recent history. So even if some of the means he adopted to implement his pet schemes appeared to be dubious, a strong economy and demand for railway services saved the day for him.
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That comfort is not available to Banerjee. Apart from that practical problem, the minister needs to realize that India needs a good railway system, one that is not plagued with infrastructural problems. If she can help birth that, that would please her constituents much more than cheap tickets.