Railway minister Suresh Prabhu had a lot on his plate, delivering his maiden budget in Parliament on Thursday. But that did not stop him from sprinkling his speech with puns and banter.
Early in his rail budget speech, Prabhu punned on his name: “Our priority is to improve the capacity in the high density section. But I thought, hey prabhu (god), how will it happen?”
Adding a touch of humour to the otherwise serious affair in the Lok Sabha, Prabhu added: “Prabhu (God) did not answer, so this Prabhu (himself) thought, why we cannot do something?”
Handpicked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to head one of the largest railway networks in the world, the former Shiv Sena politician is known to be fond of poetry. Like several finance ministers have done in the past, the rail minister used a couplet to ease fellow parliamentarians into his speech that lasted more than an hour. “Kuch naya jodna hoga, kuch purana todna hoga, kuch engine badalne honge, kuch repair karne honge,” he said.
Prabhu did not stop there. He took a dig at himself to lighten up the atmosphere again a few minutes later. The rail minister said ladders for upper berths in rail coaches would be improved and the middle berth would be reserved for women and old people “like me”.
The rail minister's remarks stood out in a speech that was high on promise but lacked specifics. A high-speed corridor between Delhi and Kolkata would be worked on so that “my friends from West Bengal (present in the Lok Sabha) can travel faster”, he added.
Finance ministers have widely quoted poets, saints, economists and litterateurs over the years to reinforce macro-economic arguments in political and social context.
“I must be cruel only to be kind,” then finance minister Pranab Mukherjee quoted from Shakespeare’s Hamlet while presenting the budget for 2012-13.
Lalu Prasad is another politician who is known for his funny repartees during rail budget speeches.
In 2009, Prasad did not spare then shipping and surface transport minister TR Baalu while presenting the rail budget. Baalu was sitting on his right and was handing over pages of his speech. When he fumbled once, Prasad looked at him with a raised eyebrow and said: "Lalu, Baalu..."
Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, himself famous for his humourous comments in the House, took a few jibes at Prasad.
When some MPs complained that Lalu was not announcing anything for their constituency, Chatterjee told them, "Even though my constituency has been delimited I am not saying anything."