The Vande Bharat Express trains were flagged off by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday from Bhopal. But is that really anything new? This could be a question. Because since these semi-high-speed trains began operating in India in 2019, he has almost always been the one to wave them off.
How come PM Modi does it, then? Why won’t he let someone else handle it, like Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw? Despite the Rajdhanis, Shatabdis, and Durantos, the lighter, faster, and more comfortable trains, though still few and far between, are a big deal in India’s extensive and sluggish rail network and infrastructure. Vande Bharat is undoubtedly a show-stopper, but should the PM really be doing all the flagging offs? He is alleged by the opposition to be credit-hungry. Is that, however, the only explanation?
A simplistic answer could be, he is the prime minister and can very well decide which events he wants to headline. But that’s not the point. The kind of priority and commitment PM Modi accords to these trains can be understood, at least in part, by what happened in December last year when he virtually flagged off a Vande Bharat train connecting Howrah and Jalpaiguri in West Bengal, not changing his schedule even on a day his mother, Heeraba, passed away. Maybe, he would not have changed his schedule even if it was some other public event and not necessarily about Vande Bharat.
But it’s important to remember the elements of commitment and priority. There is no denying that, primarily as a result of insufficient modernization, the Indian Railways has struggled with revenue losses, operational inertia, and fatal accidents.