Railway Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee today hit her predecessor Lalu Prasad where it hurt him most—on the supposed turnaround of Indian Railways during Prasad’s regime.
She not only brought out various loopholes in the claims of growth of the railways, but a White Paper on the performance of Indian Railways released by her today also said: “There were two accounting changes during the last five years (Prasad’s tenure). These have contributed significantly in inflating the figures of ‘cash surplus before dividend’.”
Banerjee’s White Paper also said there are certain “inadequacies and weaknesses” in the existing accounting system and showed if some changes were made, how the cash surpluses shown during Prasad’s regime would actually be much less.
Banerjee even gave examples of Communist-led China to show that how Indian Railway during Prasad’s regime lagged behind. The White Paper says while the average new line was 222 km per year during Prasad’s tenure, China laid new lines adding up to 1000 km per year during the same period.
An anxious Congress leadership had already asked Banerjee not to get involved in witch-hunting. She was told the second United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was an extension of the first UPA where Prasad was the Rail Minister and that if Prasad was indicted it would be an embarrassment for the first Manmohan Singh government as a whole. Banerjee did not get the report approved in the cabinet and perhaps wanted to place it directly on the table of the House. But this morning, a top official from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) called up Banerjee and she had to ‘clear’ the White Paper with the Prime Minister’s Office before releasing it to newspapers. A White Paper is an authoritative government account of an event or a ministry. Cabinet has to mandatorily clear it.
Banerjee’s report concluded, “The best period for Indian Railways financially in the last two decades was not the last five years, but the period 1991-96”(when CK Jaffer Sharief was Railway Minister). This has irked Prasad the most among other issues of the White Paper.
“Why did the Railway Minister skipped the interim period when Nitish Kumar and she herself were the Railway Minister? If you say Jaffar Sharif performed best as railway Minister, then you must also explain how the condition of the Railways deteriorated in the next few years. Why didn’t the report mention the dismal status of the Indian Railway which I inherited when I became the Railway Minister,” Prasad fumed.
Just as Banerjee didn’t mention Prasad’s name even once in the entire White Paper, Prasad too, refrained blaming Banerjee directly. “She has been misled by her officers. They tried to finish my image as the Railway Minister. While Nitish Kumar and Banerjee (in her earlier tenure) had to regularly ask for money from the Finance Minister, I gave dividend to the government,” said Prasad hours after Banerjee laid the paper in the Parliament.
Banerjee refrained from making any comment and she said, “this is not the first time a White Paper has been tabled. I don’t want to make any political statements.”
Significantly, Prasad spent almost an hour with Banerjee on Thursday and today he gain met Banerjee before the White Paper was placed. The attack on Prasad comes at a time when he is keen to mend the bridge with the Congress and Banerjee, the Trinamool Congress chief, enjoys a good rapport with Congress president Sonia Gandhi. To confidants, Prasad dubbed the White Paper as an effort to politically isolate him.