Millennium Post

Indian Rail: in transition and deterioration

It is a tale of the ‘sacking’ in two eras. The first was scripted with the dismissal of the late B C Ganguli from service on Sunday, 10 October 1971. An Indian Railway  Service Engineers (IRSE) 1937 batch, he was the legendary Chairman of the Railway Board (1970-1971) and the undisputed ‘father’ of independent India’s rail system. He was also known for his super professionalism, unimpeachable probity and an equally unmatched forthrightness of intelligence, diligence and knowledge.

Now, more than 41 years later, comes the second high profile departure of the 21st century Railway Minister of India on Friday, 10 May 2013. Indeed, together, it constitutes a fascinating story of comparison and contrast hovering around a karma yogi (work-is-worship) Ganguli of the mid-20th century and the astonishingly unwise work ethics of a rail minister of India’s present 1.2 billion people. Interestingly, as well as co-incidentally, both the sackings came during the rule of the Congress party, notwithstanding the time gap of four decades. Ganguli was pushed out swiftly in 1971. 2013’s railway boss resisted ouster from the Delhi Durbar, though in vain.

Myriad questions cross one’s mind because it is time to show Indians what it took for an IRSE officer to selflessly devote his life to the cause of nation building through construction of new (railway) tracks in the most difficult terrain of the country. It is also a sordid reflection of what it takes for independent India’s myopic political bosses to destroy one of the grand old rail system which till date continues to be the mainstay of India’s economic engine, granting mobility and connectivity of the people thereof.

Ganguli’s tryst with rail began on 17 July 1937 with the then ‘Assam Bengal Railway’ headquartered at (undivided India’s) Chittagong. By the time he was dismissed 34 years later, he inscribed his name as a ‘super performer’ and a man from a different planet. He was responsible for the laying of tracks in the east and north-east India through the years of the Second World War (between 1937 and 1945) for the movement of defence personnel to the remote corners of the British Indian empire. These were the immortal creations of Ganguli. Nevertheless, Ganguli went home unsung, but without an iota of regret, because he would never compromise with his sky high professionalism, probity and self-respect. He also did not opt for ‘life-long’ pension as he decided to continue with his ‘Pashtun-like’ independent views and philosophy of life. Thus though the government of the day succeeded in showing the door to an outstanding officer of merit, it also succeeded in breaking the spine and professionalism of officers for all time to come. It can be seen from the recent sordid saga of unbridled corruption pertaining to unabashed ‘cash for post’ transaction between one of the senior most engineer officers and his political master of the ministry.

Ganguli went to court for the injustice done to him, all in vain. October 1971 did not turn out an opportune moment for this outstanding and honest railway official owing to gathering war-clouds in the eastern frontier of India, an area, in which he traversed with trail blazing glory during a war in another era. Shockingly, it transpired that the Chairman of Railway Board was a victim of mind-boggling behind-the-scene activities of his corruption afflicted colleagues. Ganguli wanted to ‘take exemplary action against the corrupt officials’. His minister vetoed in favour of ‘status quo’ and preferred his ‘own men in right place and position’.

In an inevitable clash between the honest officer, the politician had the last laugh. Ganguli had ‘retired’, retreated and rented a small flat. He died in Kolkata, on 2 June 1986, penniless but proud. In fact as proud, as a true professional of unprecedented and unrivalled probity at 72. Compare the Ganguli era achievements and the railway development projects from 17 July 1937 to 10 October 1971 with the 21st century performance of a political system from October 2012 to May 2013.
A dramatic and macabre picture emerges. The workaholic bureaucrat shunning all pleasures of life and living on one’s terms and the politicians on a reckless drive for family fortune development spree in the material world as if ‘there is no tomorrow’ as far as money making enterprise is
concerned. Thus a hilarious trend appears to be emerging in the behavioral pattern of some political leaders in 21st century India.

More often than not, when cornered or faced with uncomfortable queries on their lavish lifestyle, arrogance of power, corruption, nepotism, terror-links, credible past crimes, attempted rapes or molestation etc, they feign benign ignorance and pristine innocence. They also come out with the absurd plea that they have ‘no business relations’ with their own wives, children and nephews. As the last line of ‘offensive defence’, one can expect the quotable quotes of the era – ‘I was not informed’ or ‘none told me about it and I have never ever met him or her’ and at times ‘I have no knowledge about what you are uttering’.

And yet if an enterprising scribe or an ‘arrogant’ character comes up with credible documents or visual stuff to confront, corroborate or confirm the veracity or the authenticity of the VVIP’s acts of omission or commission, there is every possibility of his being disbanded or banished from the social circles along with false cases slapped on the former in near future.

Indeed one is convinced today that India’s aspiration to attain super power status will continue to elude the nation of 1.2 billion people as mirage only.

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