The stampede at New Delhi railway station has finally turned the spotlight on Trinamool Congress leader and railway minister Mamata Banerjee. Ironically, this has happened not so much because of the stampede—an avoidable human tragedy and significant public inconvenience—but the cavalier response of the railway minister: “There was a small bridge. They were just coming out from that small portion. Maybe then something happened. So they have to take proper care.” Yes, that’s exactly what the good lady said.
The response is symptomatic of the kind of leadership Banerjee has brought to her ministry. Operating in absentia, she has neglected routine policymaking and on occasions where she has reacted, as she did after the stampede, she has ended up sounding like a colonial voice responding to a disturbance in some outpost. This has come as a setback to Indian Railways, and at a time when it has to press on in earnest to ramp up capacities to meet the growing demand of a trillion dollar economy.
Instead of focusing on her ministry, Banerjee, in all her wisdom, has chosen to focus all her energies in readying for the electoral battle in West Bengal due in 2011. By all accounts, it is likely that Banerjee may succeed in ousting the Left parties from their bastion. But this success at the state level will come at a national cost.
Something similar is being incurred in another key infrastructure ministry: telecom. Managed by A. Raja, who is part of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, a key constituent of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), like the Trinamool Congress, this is a ministry badly in need of a makeover. The minister has spent the most part of his tenure fending off allegations of graft rather than focusing on policy. It has led to delay in the implementation of the 3G (data-rich third-generation) telecom policy in the country by two years; some parts of the world have been on 3G for the better part of the last 10 years.
Is it any wonder, then, that the single biggest challenge facing the country continues to be the infrastructure deficit? And since many of these utilities, such as railways and telecom, directly touch on our daily lives, is it surprising that the UPA enters its second year with an image deficit?
How have railway and telecom policies hobbled India’s infrastructure? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org