Lalus Budget Express plays Santa to allies, political biggies

Written by fe Bureau | New Delhi, Feb 26 | Updated: Feb 27 2008, 03:44am hrs
Railway minister Lalu Prasad may have been at the forefront against the parochial brand of politics in Maharashtra, but it was his turn on Tuesday to face the brunt in Parliament with members accusing him of favouring Bihar and a few select states belonging to alliance partners in the Railway Budget.

Lalus home state obviously turned out to be the biggest gainer this year too, even as the minister played a carefully balanced game to please important allies including the Left parties besides a few important ministerial colleagues while announcing new initiatives and trains in his budget presentation.

Among the six new projects announced in the Budget, three belong to Bihar, which includes a captive thermal power plant in Aurangabad, a wagon re-construction unit at Lalus own constituency, Chhapra, and re-opening of wagon factories in Mokama and Muzaffarpur. Of the three railway workshops identified to be modernised, Lalu has chosen one in Jamalpur in Bihar. The other two are in West Bengal and Rajasthan.

The railway minister has also ensured that constituencies of leaders like Sonia Gandhi as well as important Cabinet colleagues like Pranab Mukherjee and Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi have gained from the Railway Budget. The railways had sometime back taken the decision to set up a coach factory in Gandhis constituency Rae Bareily. On Tuesday two new trains which he announced--from Kolkata to Murshidabad and Radhikapur to Delhi are sure to please Mukherjee and Dasmunshi respectively.

Similarly, southern partners, DMK and PMK, were a happy lot as the railway minister also announced new trains in their areas of influence. Two new trains, the weekly Chennai-Tiruchendur Express and Tirunelveli-Tiruchendur passenger seemed to be influenced by the DMK while the Chennai-Salem Express and the Mysore-Nanjangaud passenger, in and around minister of state R Velus constituency, was a result of PMK pressure.

The Left parties, however, were split over the Railway Budget. While the Left in West Bengal were angry with Lalu and even staged a walkout, he enticed them in Kerala by announcing a new coach factory for the state.

Ten more Garib Raths were announced by the minister, an indication that they had been well received politically. Bihar got its lions share with three new trains. However, heeding to the strong pressure from the Maharashtra lobby led by the NCP, Lalu announced a Garib Rath between Nagpur-Pune.