Vande Bharat Express, also called Train 18 that plies between New Delhi and Varanasi, has been damaged by an unknown stone-pelter near Tundla Railway station.
In normal circumstances, this is hardly news worthy of being reported or discussed.
But these are not normal times.
This is the third time that the train has faced such an attack. The previous such incidents on the train, flagged off only on February 17 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, were during its trial run in December and January. Though it was said that young children had thrown the stones at least in one case, it is also suspected that children were used for this by an unidentified group.
Vande Bharat Express is among the more ambitious attempts by this government, and it has been manufactured under its much-touted ‘Make in India’ initiative. The train has been conceived, designed, manufactured and put on the tracks by the Integral Coach Factory (ICF) Chennai in 18 months flat. Train 18, it is said, can achieve a maximum speed of 160 kmph (though it is running at 130 kmph only on the Delhi-Varanasi stretch). It is expected to bring down the travel time on the route by around 40 per cent.
The train, which has 16 coaches, boasts of bio-vacuum toilets, wifi entertainment, CCTV cameras, rotating chairs in its two executive class compartments.
The Modi government with its penchant for photo-ops has been going to town with the production details and running speed of the train on social media platforms. There was also an unseemly controversy as the Railway Minister Piyush Goyal made tall claims on its speed with a short video clip. It however turned out later that the clip he had shared was the one speeded up.
The government and the Minister were made fun of. It was perfectly fine, and par for the course on social media platforms. But on the day after its inaugural, in a trip that was unveiled for the press corps, the train had some glitches and had to be halted.
But before the reasons for the stoppage could emerge, all hell broke loose on social media platforms, as typical handles that harbour a grouse against the NDA government and Modi in particular pounced on. The Make in India campaign was mocked at. Modi government’s claims on the train were targeted. There was an unconcealed glee that the train’s journey had to be stopped.
Later, it emerged that the train was halted because of a cattle hit. This had caused technical outage.
How can the government be held responsible for stray cattle issues? But not only the government was faulted, but Indian engineering work also came in for pejorative flak from the sections inimical to the government and also from journalists, who at least on paper, were supposed to know better.
“There is a tendency these days in this country to run down anything that has a Modi connection,” says V R Manjula, a doctor in New Delhi. “As I see it, in their eagerness to put down Modi, people don’t even realise that they are actually making fun of good work that our engineers have done. That is a shame.”
With the government presenting this train as one of its showpiece achievements, it has also been physically targeted by miscreants.
“These are not isolated incidents. Why would anyone stone a train when there is no real protest anywhere? They want this train to fail and this government get the stick,” says a Delhi-based journalist.
What he adds is more dire: “Not just this. See, there has been widespread endorsement, tacitly or directly, for the attack on CRPF jawans in Pulwama from some people on social media platforms. To dissent against the Indian army’s presence in Kashmir is totally different from justifying heinous attack on the CRPF. But that is what is happening.”
What the journalist says has some truth. Never before has there been such a show of support on social media platforms for a terrorist attack. But we have seen many such posts in the aftermath of Pulwama. Even mainline journalists have been guilty of airing such views. And what followed has been even more shameful, as the bogey of Kashmiris being attacked elsewhere in the country was also raised. Almost all of these stories turned out to be false alarms. But a needless panic was created through motivated claims.
“These are tough times for the nation. All this is because, they all hate one man, and that is undoing the entire nation,” says Manjula. “If they don’t like his policies, fight him politically. Speak with votes in the elections. That is real democracy. Pelting of stones on trains and running down India and supporting terrorists are acts of cowardice and treason.”
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