India needs bullet trains more than those pseudo pro-poor experts
Politics in India is like a human habit which refuses to die. Since independence, this country has gone through several cycles of habit and the latest to add to it is the habit to hate Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
There are scores of instances that show people oppose a plan or policy at the government level just as because they have a habit of defying Modi, no matter what the issues are.
The bullet train episode is one such instance. The volume of disapproval of the high-speed rail deal that India recently inked with Japan is quite high.
Theories of all kinds are being floated about the (un)usefulness of the proposed bullet train project between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, two top financial centres of the country.
Some say it's a wastage of money while others say the same funds could be used for improving the current state of Indian Railways, one of the biggest enterprises not just in India but in the entire world.
These counter views are not entirely untrue. Yes, India's ground realities still don't look perfect for the bullet train. There is a need to better the existing railway infrastructure in the country which is not in a good health.
Opposition to bullet trains a hypocrisy in principle
But in principle, there lies a big hypocrisy in whatever counter arguments the critics of Modi (yes more than the high-speed train, it is the PM who is facing the resistance) are forwarding to show the Shinkansen in a bad light.
Were we sleeping all these years?
To those who feel bullet train doesn't suit India's interests and there are better ways to improve the railways' health, our counter question is: WHY IN 68 YEARS SINCE INDEPENDENCE, INDIA IS STILL NOT READY FOR A BULLET-TRAIN PROJECT?
And also: IF BULLET TRAIN IS SEEN AS A VEHICLE FOR THE RICH, WHY WE HAVEN'T SUCCEEDED ALL THESE YEARS TO IMPROVE THE STANDARDS OF LIVING OF THE POOR SO THAT THEY CAN AVAIL A BETTER SERVICE TODAY?
To those who are questioning PM Modi's "common sense" in pursuing the bullet train project, especially from the ranks of the Congress, it can also be asked: WHY AFTER 68 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE, WE STILL GET TO HEAR ABOUT THE DILAPIDATED CONDITION OF THE INDIAN RAILWAYS?
If railway tracks are in bad shape, colonial-time bridges are collapsing under pressure, level-crossings lie unmanned and the railways still have staff shortage to ensure safety of crores travelling everyday, why hasn't these issues been addressed in so many years?
Just because we are a ‘poor' country, we need not dream big?
Do we hence surrender to the fact that our railways will continue to be exploited for political mileage by opportunist leaders even if that compromises with safety and security? If Modi is criticised for his "audacious" vision of a bullet train in a poor country, who will teach a lesson to those rulers before him who had allowed the railways to sink just to meet their own selfish ends?
Had Nehru dreamt of a bullet train, criticisms would have been understandable
The cry over the bullet train project gives the impression that Modi is the first prime minister of a just-independent country and he has to take care of the commoners' welfare before anything else.
Dreaming about a bullet train is an evil luxury that the nation can't afford. Such defiance would have suited Jawaharlal Nehru, independent India's first prime minister, who had an enormous task of building up a fresh nation-state. If his successors over six decades could not give the railways, considered the lifeline of the country, the care it merited, Modi's own plan for high-speed trains can't be called an evil.
That's a misplaced argument, just to drive home the point is that Modi is pro-rich.
When airways, roadways have undergone sea changes, why not railways?
India today has seen complete transition in many ways. In other modes of transportation like airways or roadways, there have been changes that were once beyond imagination. The aviation and automobile sectors have seen unprecedented changes today.
Flying or too-long-distance driving are no more confined to particular sections of people. Nobody is complaining about the end of days of monopoly by either Air India or the Ambassador. So why is the double standard when it comes to the railways? Eighteen to 20 hours (or even more) journey still in this high-speed era? Do we have so much time?
The opposition to bullet train is more politically motivated
The opposition to the bullet train is more a politically motivated for since the sector is closely associated with the common man's sentiments and hence offer ample scopes for populism, criticising the bullet train from the point of poor-rich angle makes it politically beneficial for certain quarters.
However, these quarters, regardless of their popular sentiments, haven't bothered about the railways' health for decades (the ticket prices were raised after a decade!) and just exploited it as a curse of coalition politics to get their vote boxes filled. So today, when they see Modi trying to take the railways to the next level by implementing the bullet train project, they feel threatened.
Bullet train project can progress in incremental manner
The bullet train project in this country can of course progress in an incremental manner. Mumbai-Ahmedabad is a highly busy route which justifies the plan for running the bullet train there. If some busy routes are selected for bullet trains after thorough field study, what's the harm being made to the poor in this country?
The beginning can be made by catering to the business classes that will facilitate India's financial activities. In the long run, this can even help integrate the economy of entire South Asia.
But we are not known for our farsightedness. Our pseudo pro-poor experts will go on parroting the same problems that plague the railways, something that hasn't been addressed in nearly 70 years, so that Modi doesn't claim the cake.