Prabhu to Goyal: Railways ministry handed over from one Mumbaiite to another
Sunday’s Cabinet reshuffle saw the man from Matunga, Piyush Goyal, replace the man from Dadar, Suresh Prabhu, in the Railway ministry, which is the one that matters most to MumbaiitesUpdated: Sep 04, 2017 09:39 IST
When the trains stop, Mumbai stops – like during the deluge last Tuesday. Native Mumbaiites will tell you that unless you have travelled in a Churchgate or CST local during peak office hours, you will not understand the city or its needs. If that is the case, the new Railway minister is well qualified, as was, to be fair, the man he replaced.
Sunday’s Cabinet reshuffle saw the man from Matunga, Piyush Goyal, replace the man from Dadar, Suresh Prabhu, in the Railway ministry, which is the one that matters most to Mumbaiites.
Goyal has big shoes to fill. During Prabhu’s tenure, the city’s big ticket suburban railway projects got an estimated Rs40,000-crore boost.
The two have a lot in common, though Prabhu is 10 years older. Both are chartered accountants and lawyers. Both were bankers before they became politicians. BJP sources say both ministers also know first-hand the travails of travelling by locals during peak college and office hours.
Prabhu is a politician by accident. He was managing director at Saraswat Bank when he met Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray, who prevailed on him to join his party. The four-time MP from the Sena’s safe seat of Rajapur, lost the confidence of Thackeray during his tenure as minister in the Vajpayee cabinet -- apparently for maintain his clean image at the cost of the party’s interests. But Prabhu won an admirer in Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Goyal, however, is from a political family with close links to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. His late father, Ved Prakash Goyal, was Union minister of shipping and national treasurer of the BJP for more than two decades. His mother, Chandrakanta Goyal, was thrice elected legislator and was known for her social work.
Vajpyee made Prabhu chairperson of the Taskforce for Interlinking Rivers in 2002, and nominated Goyal as one of the members.
In the Vajpayee government, Prabhu was known for his work in the power sector. He is credited with drafting the Electricity Act of 2003 that opened up opportunities for private sector investment and augmented power generation. At least some of Goyal’s success as power minister in the Modi cabinet is because of the base created by Prabhu.
Both ministers are comfortable with social media and maintaining relations with people across the political spectrum.
Prabhu at one time was close to both Thackeray and Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar. Prabhu also refused an invitation to speak at Wharton in 2013 after the top management school withdrew an invite to Narendra Modi, who was then Gujarat chief minister.
Goyal is close to the RSS as well as the top BJP brass; he was in charge of the party advertising and publicity campaign ahead of the 2014 polls.
Successes and challenges
Railway officials credit Prabhu with giving Mumbai more during his tenure. He approved the third phase of the Mumbai Urban Transport Project, along with the Bandra-Virar elevated corridor, the CST-Panvel elevated corridor and the Virar-Diva-Panvel line quadrupling. All these are big ticket projects that will eventually augment the carrying capacity of the suburban network.
Local railway officials credit Prabhu with several reformative steps that will yield substantial gains in the long run. For instance, he focussed on improving speed and quality of long distance trains -- for example the Tejas express, the first luxury train on Mumbai-Goa route. Besides, he gave more powers to general managers of zonal railways, brought in a catering policy, introduced WiFi and RO water fountains at stations - basic amenities for lakhs of city commuters.
“Prabhu was not an aggressive minister. Hence railway officers took his ideas and plans lightly. What hindered work were his constant Mumbai visits and a lot of inaugurations. We were kept busy in just unproductive matters,’’ said a railway official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Prabhu also could not get the state government on board on two big ticket projects – the Bandra-Virar and the CST-Panvel elevated corridors.
Local railway officials hope that Goyal will succeed on this front. ``Goyal has a way with bureaucracy and officials. In the case of power ministry, he also did well because of his comfort with the industry’s leaders and business professionals. Whether the same skill sets can work for railways is not known. But, he will deliver better when it comes to co-ordinating with the state because he has been over the last two years playing a role in advising the state leadership on big events including the city civic polls,’’ said a senior BJP leader.