Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav has flagged off another of his Garib Raths – the fourth from Bihar – on Monday.
But his detractors (read: people living around Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in flood-hit Bihar) are saying that with Lok Sabha elections round the corner, Lalu has to fight with whatever he has.
And he has under his command the biggest tool a politician has ever had to connect with his constituency – The Indian Railways.
Christened Jaynagar-Hazrat Nizamuddin Garib Rath, it will connect the state’s migrant labourers with New Delhi. Earlier, he linked Saharsa with Amritsar, one of the biggest employers of such labourers.
The AC Garib Rath is meant for the poor. While introducing the first Rath, he said: “I know how rudely a poor man is treated by the TTEs (train ticket examiners) in AC compartments. They are shooed away, just like dogs. No more. This whole train is for the poor and no TTE dare now shoo them away.”
However, a ride on the Jaynagar-Hazrat Nizamuddin Garib Rath will cost Rs 643, while a non-AC class ticket costs around Rs 250. Lalu’s claims aside, the Garib Rath’s clientele is likely to be largely from the seven lakh middle class passengers who travel by sleeper class every day.
“It is preposterous to think that the poor, who can hardly afford to make both ends meet, will even think of travelling in AC coaches. But then, it’s an idea, which need not be taken literally,” said a senior railway official on condition of anonymity.
But Lalu cannot stop at flagging off only one Rath. He inaugurated a 68-km broad gauge line between Sitamarhi and Darbhanga and announced at Sitamarhi that the railways would provide a direct train to New Delhi in 15 days. He also flagged off two passenger trains between Sitamarhi and Darbhanga. All in one day.