Even before all the bodies had been extricated from the mangled coaches in Monday’s train accident in West Bengal, the game of political one-upmanship had began.
In West Bengal, the Left attacked Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress with an eye on the assembly polls in May 2011.
In Bihar, Lalu Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan, both of them are former railway ministers, took potshots at Banerjee, hoping it would weaken her position in the UPA.
But Banerjee was given a pleasant surprise by Janata Dal (U) leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
Kumar turned on Lalu, not Mamata, blaming him for not doing enough for railway safety.
While Lalu called the accident, 'a serious lapse', LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan asked Banerjee to “make a choice as to whether she wants to be the railway minister or do West Bengal politics. Both cannot go together. The loss of so many lives every three months is not tolerable." What went against Banerjee, her rivals said, was that 250 people had lost their lives in the past year when she has been railway minister, in railway accidents. About a dozen accidents have taken place since May 2009, including two major mishaps in West Bengal in less than two months.
Banerjee, on her part, raised suspicions about the cause of the accident. “We have some doubt in our mind. Whatever happened is not (a) casual thing,” she said, hinting at sabotage. Terming Banerjee's suggestion as “highly irresponsible”, Sitaram Yechury Politburo member of the CPI(M) – smarting under Banerjee’s onslaught in West Bengal – said, “There has been no act of sabotage, nothing has been removed.”
“You have a minister whose attention is elsewhere and the country is paying the price for that … It is high time he (Prime Minister Manmohan Singh) takes a call,” he added.
As the leaders clashed, noisy scenes broke out in the West Bengal assembly with the ruling Left Front demanding immediate resignation of Banerjee.) Even alliance partner Congress suggested Banerjee should get her act together. “Those who work in the Railways should ensure that such accidents are not repeated,” said party spokesman Shakeel Ahmed.
With disaster politics taking a nasty turn, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee came out in Mamata's support. “Accidents are accidents. Nobody can predict," Mukherjee said.