Ahmedabad, Sep 15: It's a dream project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who wants to change the way India travels, especially people from Mumbai and Ahmedabad, who by 2023, when the country's first bullet train is likely to become operational, will take less than three hours to travel the distance between the two cities. Currently, train travel between the two cities is around seven hours.
On Thursday, when PM Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe laid the foundation of the ambitious Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project (to be built at an estimated cost of Rs 1.08 lakh crore) in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, we were once again reminded of an otherwise crumbling railway network across the country as a coach of Jammu Tawi-New Delhi Rajdhani Express derailed in the morning at the New Delhi Railway station.
Thankfully, no one was injured, but the Thursday's derailment is one more mishap added to the country's growing list of train accidents in recent times.
So, the critics of Modi government at the Centre raised questions over starting the expensive bullet train project when the priority should have been to refurbish the already existing railway network which badly needs attention from the top brush of the current regime.
Thus from the main opposition party, the Congress, to the Shiv Sena, the ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Maharashtra, critics lambasted Modi's attempt to bring the majestic bullet train to India.
While Modi called the project as a harbinger of change, the Congress called the bullet train as a "chunavi bullet train" (election bullet train) as Gujarat, the home state of Modi, is all set to host the Assembly elections later this year.
"From Europe to China, the bullet train's image can be seen everywhere. Not just economical but also societal changes have been brought about by these trains," Modi said in Ahmedabad.
Modi also attacked his critics during his speech at the mega-event in Ahmedabad. "When earlier I talked about the bullet train, they used to say it was big talk, and now when it has come they are saying what is the need for it," Modi said. "Our aim is to make technology so affordable through maximum use that it becomes associated with the life of the poor," the PM added.
The Japanese Prime Minister, Abe, in his speech gave full-credit to Modi for bringing the high-speed train to India.
"My good friend Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a farsighted leader. He took a decision two years ago to bring a high-speed train in India and to create a new India," said Abe.
Both the Congress and the Shiv Sena questioned the objective behind launching the train. The Congress clarified that it was not against innovation and development but raised doubts over the project as a "chunavi bullet train", advocating that the BJP government's main aim is to score brownie points by introducing the country's first bullet train before the Gujarat Assembly elections.
"We are getting a bullet train without asking for it. We do not know exactly which problem will this problem solve," the Shiv Sena said in its mouthpiece Saamana.
"Jawaharlal Nehru laid the foundation for several projects, from the Bhakra Nangal to the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, to ensure the country advanced in technology and science. All these projects were needed for the nation. Does this bullet train fit into the needs of the country?" the Shiv Sena added.
The Shiv Sena also alleged that "Modi's dream is not of the common man but of the rich and industrialists."
Even a group of farmers from Boisar in Palghar district of Maharashtra protested against the project fearing acquisition of their lands. The farmers, who held the demonstration outside Boisar railway station, said they will be ruined if their agricultural lands are acquired for the project.
Only time will tell us whether the bullet train project is elitist or for the development of all Indians.