The terror attack in Pulwama became the central theme on the maiden run of the semi-high-speed New Delhi-Varanasi Vande Bharat Express Train 18, flagged off by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday.
Arriving at New Delhi station right after the meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security, Modi set the tone in the morning in his speech at the flagging-off function.
As the train rolled out, Railways Minister Piyush Goyal said that by flagging off the train, the country’s fastest, India is sending out a message that that “India’s people and its armed forces do not cow down before terror”.
“I remember Mumbai got back to work the next day after the big terror attack (26/11). It was a message to the terrorists that they will never succeed in weakening India,” Goyal said on board. Accompanied by his family, the minister travelled to Varanasi along with Railway Board members and top officers of Indian Railways.
With the government deciding to keep it a simple affair, without any celebrations, the new train was left bereft of flowers or any other decoration. All celebratory elements were dispensed with at functions planned at stations on the way.
“The flagging-off is a message that terrorism cannot stop India’s development,” Railway Board chairman V K Yadav told The Indian Express.
Celebrations were initially planned during the train’s halt for 40 minutes each at Kanpur and Allahabad. At both places, it was greeted by members of local BJP units, with “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” and slogans against the Pulwama attack in particular, and against Pakistan in general.
On stages put at stations for functions, Goyal paid tributes to the slain CRPF personnel. In Kanpur, he paid tributes to Shyam Babu, who was from Kanpur Dehat district; in Allahabad, he paid tributes to Mahesh Kumar; and at the function in Varanasi, the minister offered his respects to Ramesh Yadav.
Members of local BJP units gathered in large numbers, along with party leaders such as Kanpur MP Murli Manohar Joshi, who travelled in the train from Delhi to Kanpur. UP minister Rita Bahuguna Joshi accompanied from Kanpur, while UP Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya arrived at the function in Prayagraj.
Earlier, inspecting the driver’s cabin and the coaches, Modi is learnt to have praised the disabled-friendly features and given a go-ahead for making more technological upgrades. “He said in future we should try and equip drivers with more technology that helps in assessing approaching track conditions. He was very happy,” a Railway Board member said.
Goyal later told the media that Modi has given permission to make another 100 such trains. The Railways, he said, is in the process of tendering for 30 new train sets, and the second train set is due to arrive in March. “These semi-high-speed train-sets will run all over the country, especially in distances up to 700-750 km,” he said.
Goyal also said there is no plan to hike train fares.