The train accidents at Khatauli in western UP on August 19 had killed 23 people. On Wednesday, 74 people were injured when 12 coaches of the Azamgarh-Delhi Kaifiyat Express derailed in UP’s Auraiya.
Railway minister Suresh Prabhu offered to quit on Wednesday following two train accidents in five days.
PM Narendra Modi’s pointed response that he should wait —while not rejecting the resignation — set off intense speculation over a Cabinet reshuffle that could be a major exercise ahead of the 2019 polls.
The train accident at Khatauli in western UP on August 19 that killed 23 people was followed by revelations of appalling negligence by railway staff. On Wednesday, 74 people were injured when 12 coaches of the Azamgarh-Delhi Kaifiyat Express derailed in UP’s Auraiya district after hitting a dumper.
The two accidents have already claimed one high-profile scalp — railway board chairman A K Mittal stepped down following a nudge from the government. He has been replaced with Ashwani Lohani, chairman and managing director of Air India, who is originally from the Indian Railway Mechanical Engineering department.
“I met the prime minister taking full moral responsibility. PM has asked me to wait,” Prabhu tweeted. Significantly, he disclosed that the PM did not turn down his offer straightaway.
I am extremely pained by the unfortunate accidents, injuries to passengers and loss of precious lives. It has caused me deep anguish (4/5)
Modi’s response takes on significance as Prabhu was inducted into the government when he was not even a member of BJP, let alone Parliament, and given charge of railways — a priority area for the PM who cherishes his links with the railways from the days when he hawked tea on a platform and when he was an itinerant RSS pracharak.
The PM’s non-commital response to railway minister Suresh Prabhu’s offer to quit was grist for simmering speculation about a shakeup of the Union cabinet being round the corner to fill up crucial vacancies, punish non-performers and reward allies, both new ones as well as potential ones like AIADMK.
The two accidents provided a fresh handle to the opposition which was already gunning for Prabhu. Though the number of accidents during Prabhu’s tenure declined, mishaps at regular intervals attracted the charge that he was not able to enforce accountability in railway brass and its feuding branches.
In a series of emotional tweets, Prabhu said he was “extremely pained” by the two derailments in Uttar Pradesh. “In less than three years as minister, I have devoted my blood and sweat for the betterment of the railways. Under the leadership of the PM, I tried to overcome decades of neglect through systemic reforms in all areas leading to unprecedented investment and milestones,” he said. If Prabhu goes, this would be the second time he would have quit as minister.
He had to go as power minister in the Vajpayee government because the Shiv Sena leadership wanted him to be replaced with a more “pragmatic” person.
As railway minister, Prabhu did a lot in terms of managing long-term finance, focusing on hygiene and passenger amenities and preparing a blueprint for upgrade of platforms and stations.
Prabhu, sources said, could not handle the stubborn railway bureaucracy and get a fix on festering issues like the feuding between electric and loco units. He viewed his role as a minister as only to frame broader policies and managing finances for the transporter and delegated all administrative powers to the railway board and zonal railways. But Prabhu was seen by the railway bureaucracy as someone who wanted to abdicate responsibility by not engaging himself in the rough and tumble of running trains.