Notes on two recent sensations

Train Accident1 1

The least the present government could have done,even if to save appearances,in response to the ghastly train accident at Balasore,was the Rly Minister’s resignation.For there can be no doubt whatsoever that the accident or disaster had been caused by gross human error and utter blatant negligence.

This is no one off default but routine systemic malady.Last year’s CAG report had clearly stated that out of 350 accidents in as many as 181 in last four years enquiry reports were yet to be submitted.And there have been 211 cases of faulty signaling though fortunately not all leading to serious accidents.Evidently negligence has been endemic and yet has not caused much concern.

When one puts this against the background of distress,shock, heartbreak and numbing pain among hundreds of families across the land,one gets a glimpse of the callousness of the railway authorities and politicans who are in charge.

Actually the facts are more squalid.Ministers and MPs no longer travel by train.They fly.In business class usually.And occasionally helicopters which is deemed more prestigious,like Z plus security.How can they ever feel the horror and the agony of mortals in their god-like isolation?

I recall the distress of an early Indian patriot,hardly familiar to average educated Indians,Kali Prasanna Singha of mid 19th century Calcutta,at a glimpse of the class distinction between Europeans and native Indian on the first railway train that moved into the Howrah station.In a journal under his pen name ‘Hutom Pechha'(Horned Owl)he used to draw vivid sketches of contemporary events and scenes. So he visited the station along crowds of curious Bengalees.To his pained eyes there ran into view scores of well-dressed Englishmen in their Sunday best,at ease and traveling in comfort, and scores of sweating Indian passengers loaded like cattle on bare compartments,their clothes and faces begrimed with coal dust and soot blown from the engine.Unable to bear the shame of it and his own distress he tore himself away from the scene and moved back home in silence.

In a different setting it is still the same scene today.Only the sahebs are replaced by puffy potbellied men in churidar or native half-jackets smelling of lavender.And of course the new masters no longer travel by the same vehicles.The cattle train still plies and is now and then beset with big and small accidents.


The other day I watched Karan Thapar’s interview with Abhishek Choudhuri on the latter’s sensational recent biography of the much admired and much loved Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpeyi.Apparently it caused a rude shock to many.I am however not so surprised,first because during his life he never cared to put under wraps his lifestyle and love of good things including wine and women but was quite nonchalant about it.In fact it made party stalwarts like Balraj Madhok in the Jan Sangh,the early edition of BJP,squirm and lobby with RSS headquarters to chasten him.But apparently RSS big shots turned a cold eye at such prudery!Secondly when he became Prime Minister and rapes at the same time seem to have escalated across the country,he shocked me(though not his fans)by suggesting that the measure best suited as remedy was ‘rape insurance’.Hell! I thought there could even be a murder insurance then.

Actually Vajpeyi committed several political scandals to sufficiently awaken the soggy admirers.First he allowed the notorious Israeli general Moshe Dayan,with genocidal reputation,and then Foreign Minister of his country secretly visit India and lay the groundwork for establishment of diplomatic relations with India.Until then the PLO was lionised and no government had dreamt ofrecognizing Israel.

Next,when his government decided to hold the second nuclear bomb test, his Foreign Minister George Fernandez sent a groveling letter of apology to the American Presidet with the hint that it was actually intended to thwart the common enemy China.Actually this for the first time soured relations with China since the thaw.This sets a question-mark against the author’s view that Vajpeyi was a man of extremely ‘flexible principles’.Not at all when it came to politics.From Babri Masjid to Gujarat he had been consistent.Hence RSS leaders valued his services.What he did with his private life apparently did not bother them.

As for his private life I cannot but feel that Choudhuri has been a little too confident about his conjectures.At the time when Vajpeyi’s liaison with the wife of Prof.BN Kaul was in full bloom I was a boarder of the hostel in which Kaul was the warden.There were whispers among hostel mates about the affair but nobody seemed scandalized.While Kaul had apparently been generous about it it did not mean he did not care.He cared enough to wander around the then bare campus,brooding,melancholy and with a distant air about him for the better part of the day.We felt for the poor chap who was at heart a simple,affectionate and generous soul.The girl child in question,a love child apparently fathered by Vajpeyi,was a pretty,prattling baby whom we used to treat to chocolates.To speculate about his sexual (dis)orientation under these circumstances is just  a little too much.

A biographer certainly needs to look at all aspects of a man’s life and personality,but it is also necessary to ensure that one does not lose sight of what he primarily is a musician,an academic,a businessman or a politician.

Hiren Gohain is a political commentator


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