As Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched his ambitious bullet train project on Thursday, insisting it would bring 'convenience and safety, employment and speed', he was bombarded with criticism by
friends and foes alike.
The main Opposition Congress called the Ahmedabad-Mumbai high-speed train an 'election bullet train' project launched with an eye on the upcoming Gujarat assembly polls, while Bharatiya Janata Party's ally Shiv Sena said it might be a dream project of Modi but not for the common man.
"It's not the time to move forward slowly as time doesn't wait. The bullet train will bring in convenience and safety, employment and speed," the PM said as he launched the Rs 1.10 lakh crore venture with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe in Ahmedabad.
However, ally Shiv Sena was far from impressed.
'We are getting a bullet train without asking for it. We do not know exactly which problem will this problem solve,' the Sena said in an editorial in the party's mouthpiece Saamana.
Pandit (Jawaharlal) Nehru laid the foundation of several projects, from Bhakra Nangal to Bhaba Atomic Research Centre, to ensure the country advances in technology and science. All these projects were needed for the nation, it said.
'Does this bullet train fit into the needs of the country?' it asked and raked up the issue of agrarian distress in some states.
It said the demand for waiver of farm loans was being made for the last several years and that nobody sought a bullet train.
'The demand for loan waiver of farmers was being made for the last several years. Nobody sought a bullet train. Modi's dream is not of the common man but of the rich and industrialists,' the Sena, which shares power with BJP both in Maharashtra and at the Centre, said.
The opposition Congress, too, mounted a scalding offensive against Modi, saying the launch of the venture ahead of the Gujarat election followed a pattern of the prime minister announcing economic packages and projects before state polls.
Senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge accused the Modi government of 'completely abdicating' its responsibility towards the safety of passengers. He also claimed that the project was conceptualised by the previous United Progressive Alliance government.
"It is a matter of deep concern that while the prime minister once again adopted a UPA (government) project, it took him three-and-a-half years to come to this stage of laying the foundation stone. It is only timed with the Gujarat elections in mind...This is nothing but a 'chunavi bullet train'," Kharge told reporters in New Delhi.
He claimed the government had allocated only five per cent of the Rs 1.1 lakh crore required for railway safety despite 'horrific' train accidents taking place in the last couple of years.
Congress spokesperson RPN Singh alleged that the BJP government was ignoring railway safety even though 259 passengers have been killed and 973 injured in 29 major railway accidents since the Modi dispensation assumed office.
"They (the government) is unable to set right the faults which are causing ordinary trains to jump the tracks. Imagine what would happen if a bullet train gets off the rails," another Congress leader Sandeep Dikshit said.
However, Abe lauded Modi for being a 'farsighted' leader in thinking of bringing the high-speed train to India.
In his speech after the launch of the project, Modi took on those who were criticising him over it.
"When earlier I talked about bringing bullet train, they (opposition) used to say when will it be done. Now that we are bringing it, they are asking why," he said.
"Our stress is now on high-speed connectivity which will improve speed, reduce distance and ensure economic progress," he added.
He termed as a 'big gift' from 'friend' Japan the project, which when completed, would see the train covering the distance of 500 km between the two cities in less than three hours instead of the usual seven now.
Image: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pose in front of a Shinkansen bullet train in Tokyo, Japan. Photograph: Kyodo/Reuters