New Delhi: From targeting key political constituencies like women, youth and minorities to deviating from predecessor Lalu Yadav’s vision for the sector and paying special attention to her home state, Union railway minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday presented the first railway budget of the newly elected government with an eye on gaining electoral strength and political supremacy.
In the first Railway Budget of its second term, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has clearly given precedence to politics, with an eye on forthcoming assembly elections in Maharashtra and Arunachal Pradesh.
“It is purely a populist budget with a clear political message which is loud and clear,” said Kamal M Chenoy, political analyst and professor at the Jawahar Lal Nehru University. “The railway minister seems to have gone as far as she could. Monthly passes for unorganized sector workers would have clear implications but the challenge for the government, which is manifested in the budget document, is to do a balancing act,” he said.
The Rail Budget aims at tapping youth — a constituency the Congress has been focussing on and which Nehru-Gandhi scion Rahul Gandhi lays special emphasis on, by introducing special trains for ‘gen-next’. With youth being the flavour of the season, the railway minister has introduced low-cost, air-conditioned ‘Yuva Trains’ dedicated to it. The trains, with only sitting accommodation, will also benefit low-income groups — yet another critical section of the votebank.
Riding on its social sector programmes, the Congress came back to power in the general election in May with a resounding victory, winning 206 of the 543 Lok Sabha seats on its own, while the UPA won 263 seats. Continuing with this mandate, the government has decided to cater to minorities, women and the economically backward in the Railway Budget, with inclusion being the underlying theme.
According to the railway minister, better representation will be given to these sections in railway recruitment. A ladies’ special will be introduced in suburban trains during peak hours.
In an obvious attempt to woo minorities and re-capture the political space that had come to be occupied by regional parties like the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Samajwadi Party or Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), this Rail Budget has offered sops that also cover students of Madrassas — Islamic religious schools, to whom students concessions will now be extended.
Targetting the farming community, railways will develop cold storages for farmers to store vegetables and fruits.
Meanwhile, Mamata Banerjee who is also the Trinamool Congress chief and was responsible for the Left front’s rout in West bengal in the Lok Sabha election, has designed the budget according to her own political concerns as well, say experts.
By doling out special sops to her home state, Mamata Banerjee has laid the ground for the 2011 assembly elections in West Bengal. A new coach factory with state-of-the-art facilities, exclusively for manufacturing 500 coaches per annum to be set up at Kanchrapara in West Bengal. Concessional monthly season tickets to students in Kolkata will be applicable for travel in the Kolkata Metro Rail also.