With the Election Commission (EC) announcing a five-phase schedule for the parliamentary polls,the model code of conduct has come into force from Monday. But not before the UPA Government and its ministers had a free run in wooing the voters.
If the last week saw Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav launch a dozen railway projects,Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel was flying all over India inaugurating airport terminal buildings. Then our septuagenarian HRD Minister,Arjun Singh,who kept himself away from Parliament last week on health grounds,found himself fit as a fiddle when it came to laying the foundation stone of three IITs within a week,which is a record of sorts.
Of course,the Railway Minister took the cake when it came to beating the poll code. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar last week had said the RJD chief travelled across the country with foundation stones as his luggage and whenever he saw an opportunity,was quick to lay one. Though this may be brushed aside as an obvious barb from an arch rival,the facts didnt put Kumar far off the target.
On February 27,a dozen projects that Lalu launched ranged from commencement of works for the super-structure of a rail-cum-road bridge over Ganga to flagging off four new trains,laying the foundation stones for two wagon workshops,inaugurating a concrete manufacturing plant and flagging off the first-ever stainless steel freight rake in his home state.
Earlier,on January 27,Lalu took UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi to her constituency Rae Bareli to inaugurate construction works for the new rail coach factory,despite the fact that the ministrys legal battle with the Uttar Pradesh Government over land rights was still on. Then on February 10,the Railway Minister again got Sonia to accompany him to Rohtas in Bihar to inaugurate construction works for the Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor. Just four days later,he again took along Sonia to inaugurate the extension of the Valley train to Baramulla. On January 22,Lalu inaugurated the first phase of a Railways Super Speciality Hospital at Patna.
While the RJD chief spared no effort in pushing all the big-ticket projects of his ministry in the past few days,Patel went on an airport-terminal inauguration spree. During the past fortnight,the minister unveiled new terminal buildings at airports in Jaipur,Goa,Indore,Visakhapatnam,Raipur,Amritsar,Dehradun,Vadodara and Surat.
While his junior ministers tabled two education-related Bills the Central Universities Bill,2008 in the Rajya Sabha and the National Council of Minority Educational Institutes Bill in the Lok Sabha last Tuesday (February 24),Arjun Singh was laying the foundation stone for an IIT at Ropar in Punjab. Singh again skipped Parliament to lay the foundation stone for a Rs 300-crore Central varsity in Haryana. Early last month,he launched the massive National Mission on ICT in Education at Tirupati where the HRD Ministrys $10 laptop prototype was also unveiled.
Political exigencies in electoral times are such that while the ministrys typographical error may have promised an IIM for Rajasthan against all plans,the minister has now ruled that the state must be accommodated now and an extra IIM doled out.
The foundation stone for an IIT in Mandi,Himachal Pradesh,was laid by MoS in External Affairs Anand Sharma,whereas one for IIT Medak in Andhra Pradesh was laid by Sonia Gandhi who also launched the Congresss election campaign there with a visit to Renuka Chowdhurys Khamman parliamentary constituency on Friday. The UPA chairpersons participation in a tribal dance performance was a high point of her visit.
All through last week,Union Steel,Chemical and Fertiliser Minister Ram Vilas Paswan was travelling to lay foundation stones for Steel Processing Plants and National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research and inaugurating generic drug stores under the Jan Ausadhi Kendra brand. On February 27,accompanied by Congress MP Rahul Gandhi,the LJP leader laid the foundation for rebuilding the erstwhile Malvika Steel Limited,a division of Usha (India) Limited,in Amethi.
Union Culture Minister Ambika Soni,too,was not far behind. She inaugurated the National Gallery of Modern Art building in Bangalore,which has been ready for around two years now. The Bhagat Singh Memorial in Khatkarkalan village in Punjab which her ministry wanted the Prime Minister to inaugurate was finally inaugurated by Home Minister P Chidambaram on February 23.
Union Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde launched the Bachat Lamp Yojana the low-cost CFL light project which was in the pipeline for quite some time on February 25. He also launched the the website of the Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Programme entailing power projects worth Rs 50,000 crore.
The hurriedly convened February 23 meeting of the Union Cabinet that cleared 50-plus proposals followed by the February 26 meeting which doled out sops like a 6 per cent hike in dearness allowance of Central Government employees also offer a glimpse of how the Government raced ahead of the poll schedule announcement.