Former federal minister says bullet train a gimmick to entice Gujarat voters

Surat, November 22, 2017

By Sudeep Sonawane

Indian National Congress candidate from Mahuva constituency for Gujarat assembly polls Wednesday said promise of delivering Japanese-made Shinkasen,  metaphorically known as bullet train, is an election gimmick spun by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to entice voters.

In an exclusive interview with the The National Dawn, Dr Tushar Amarsinh Chaudhary said, “BJP routinely spins dreams ahead of elections. If they are sincere about development, what happened to the Spanish Talgo train project started by former Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu?

“The idea was good, and the project feasible. Talgo successfully ran train trials between Mumbai and Delhi. This cost-effective project would have benefited people. So, why didn’t they close the deal? The railway minister should explain.”

Chaudhary, a former federal Minister of State for Road Transport and Highways, said Vice President Mr Rahul Gandhi reiterated Congress party’s views on this issue earlier during his election campaign in Vapi, south Gujarat.

“The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government must give priority to upgrade existing railway. They must provide better facilities in trains, platforms, install rail tracks for new routes, increase frequency on high demand routes and minimise accident rates before thinking about bullet train project, Mr Gandhi told the rally,” said the former MP, twice elected to the Lower House from Mandvi (2004) and Bardoli (2009) constituencies in Gujarat.

About the campaign pitch in Surat, Chaudhary said, “We continue with door-to-door campaign in and around Surat’s 12 assembly constituencies. During our visits we listen to peoples’ needs, demands and grievances. Noting new work they want done, or what the Surat Municipal Corporation has

Dr Tushar Chaudhary… wonders when the Bullet train dream will come true?

not done so far for them. We take peoples’ opinions from each constituency to prepare our manifesto.”

Peoples’ response to our door-to-door campaign is good. This further encourages party workers, he said. confirms his claim on good response from citizens. There’s a groundswell for Congress’ campaign in Gujarat’s towns and villages. Congress gave impetus to the poll campaign by sending national leaders. Sachin Pilot and, the 1980s pioneer of India’s telecom revolution, Sam Pitroda, held long meetings with the party’s local workers, volunteers and met with socially and economically challenged Gujaratis.

A large section of voters look afresh at Congress to bail them out from the double hits of demonetisation and an unplanned Goods and Services Tax (GST) that disrupted their daily living. Many condemn the false promises BJP makes ahead of polls and leaves them to scrape crumbs after results.

On the issue of limited flights from Surat airport to major destinations in India, Dr Chaudhary said, “The UPA Government led by Congress started the development of Surat Airport. The airport and Air India flights to Surat began during our rule. Later, Spicejet started flight services from Surat. Now Surtis comfortably travel to Mumbai, Kolkata, Patna, Goa, Hyderabad Jaipur, Ahmedabad and Bhavnagar. Further, flights to Jodhpur and Chennai will start December 7.

 “When I was a Member of Parliament in 2004, I was member civil aviation consultative committee. This panel meets under the leadership of aviation ministry. No flight service to Surat existed during that time.

“Mr Praful Patel was then the federal minister of Civil Aviation. I told him ‘I’m an ordinary Adivasi from Gujarat and I dream of travelling to Delhi by plane from Surat’. I reminded him this at every committee meeting. Finally with an outlay of Rs 60 crores (Rs 600 million) work for Surat Airport started. When Air India launched the first flight I was on it with Kashiram Ranaji and Jivabhai Patel.”

“The responsibility to upgrade the airport and launch flights to other cities lies with the BJP-led NDA government. Surat remains a major financial hub with diamond and textiles industries based here. The business community deserves connectivity to more destinations in India. The federal government should seriously consider Surat’s push for more flights. Will NDA do it? In 2007 Mr Modi promised to build an airport in Dholera, forget the airport, they have not even laid a foundation stone brick over there.”

Surat had the dubious record of the world’s only city with a population over 4.6 million without an airport. This changed on May 6, 2007 when Aviation Minister Praful Patel flagged off the first commercial flight run by Indian Airlines from Delhi to Surat.

Gujarat State government built Surat Airport. Vayudoot and Gujarat Airways ran flights in the 1990s. They stopped in 1994 and 2000. Airports Authority of India took charge of the airport in 2003 and currently runs it.