Days before presenting his Railway Budget,Trinamool leader and Railways minister Dinesh Trivedi analyses the recent assembly election results,the rise of regional parties and his plan for the Railways. This session was moderated by Senior Editor (Politics) Vandita Mishra
Vandita Mishra: There is a clear anti-Congress sentiment underlying the verdict of the assembly elections. Secondly,regional parties have gained at the expense of national parties. What is your assessment?
Dinesh Trivedi: My initial assessment is that the voters have become mature,it is now time for the politicians to become mature. The voters know exactly what they want and what they dont want. That has come out very clearly. Also,the elections have shown that anything is possible: an elephant can get run over by a bicycle. This is what democracy is all about. This election has proved to be a game-changerpeople dont want promises,they want confidence,they want reliability. The other thing this election has shown is there is nothing called charisma. Look at Akhileshhe has just come up,he was nowhere on the scene. But from whatever little I have known of him,he is very amiable. He gives you the confidence that he means what he says. There is no make-up. I hope power doesnt spoil him.
Vandita Mishra: Does Rahul Gandhi wear make-up?
Dinesh Trivedi: I dont think so. I have no doubt Rahul Gandhi is very sincere in his purpose. He has taken this defeat very gracefully. Soniaji too. The best part is they have not blamed anybody. Leaders must understand that chamchas and sycophants are injurious to political health. They take you to the khajur ka ped and leave you there. So you must make your own assessment. Indian society has been feudal but this new generation of young people will not accept anything but what is real. They have a lot of confidence. Imagine,Akhilesh talking about laptops. People do not want reservation any longermandal-kamandal is over. Young people want education,they want dignity.
In my constituency,I was giving solar lights and the people were eager to get it because with the solar lamp they could charge their phones. They said we can do without lights but we want communication. We,in politics,must learn to give dignity and dignity doesnt come with promises through manifestos. Deeds and the manifesto have to match. So be what you are,dont put on any make-up. In India,the masses are reasonable. They say,thoda hai,thode ki zaroorat hai . We give them tall promises and they know those are not possible.
Vandita Mishra: Are regional parties growing at the expense of national parties?
Dinesh Trivedi: Both the national parties,Congress and BJP,have not done too well. If you want the regional space,you have to work there. You cannot send leaders there,overnight. You have to have a strong local leadership. Unless you have strong leadership at the regional level,it isnt possible for a national party to grow. Its like the army: if you dont have different generals in different areas,the army cannot be strong. Todays leaders are too insecure. We come to politics to serve the country. But in todays politics,generally speaking,people come to serve either the leaders or the party.
Nistula Hebbar: Some sections of the media have warned against the rise of regionalism. Many have also written obituaries for national parties.
Dinesh Trivedi: Todays regional party can become tomorrows national party. Regional parties have grown because national parties have become weak. Today,the judiciary has become stronger,NGOs and the media will become stronger if the executive doesnt perform its part. So there is always a space and a vacuum if the national leadership doesnt develop a regional leadership or doesnt give the regional leadership its due. Take Mamata Banerjee: had Congress utilised the talent,courage and focus of Mamata Banerjee,I dont think she would have ever left the Congress.
Vandita Mishra: Do you foresee any possibility of a mid-term poll because sometimes it almost seems as if Trinamool is preparing for it or expecting it ?
Dinesh Trivedi: Why only Trinamool Congress? UP gives you a large number of MPs. If I was the Samajwadi Party,I would be thinking,I have no compulsion to make sure this government survives. I would be very happy to have general elections tomorrow so that I can increase my tally because the momentum is there. Trinamool Congress would be very happy to have elections tomorrow,rather than after two years. This is what I feel. If there is a perception that there is an anti-Congress feeling,then BJP would also want elections. So if everybody wants to have elections,there will be elections.
Vandita Mishra: So you do think there will be a mid-term poll?
Dinesh Trivedi: Today,we are almost in a position of status quo. Nothing big ticket in economic terms will be sanctioned. Even on a small issue there wont be consensus. If there is no consensus,then we are just dragging our feet. It will be very difficult to run this Parliament because everybody is aspiring and everybody sees big meat in front of them. We are in a very difficult situation as far as the government is concerned. There wont be any big reforms. Thats not a good sign for the economy. Democratically,its a very good signeverybody has aspirations. Yes,I see elections sooner rather than later. Today,when the going is good,everybody wants elections.
Swaraj Thapa : Do you think the government should call for elections?
Dinesh Trivedi: I dont know. But if I cannot move forward,if Im in the position of a lame duck,then I may think it is a good idea to call it a day. There is nothing wrong in democracy to sit in the Oppositionyou serve the people then too. At the end of the day,it will all depend on what people wantif the people are ready for a mid-term poll,then it will happen. If I was in such a situation,I would have found out what the people want: do they want to continue the way I am continuing or do they want us to go for a fresh mandate? The pulse of the people in a democracy is very important.
Sunil Jain: Youve said politicians must deliver. In West Bengal,you havent presented a Budget yet. Your finances are in a mess,you havent attracted investment. What is your strategy for delivering in West Bengal?
Dinesh Trivedi: The same voter who celebrates your victory will throw you out also. I dont think people have patience anymore. We definitely need to deliver. If we dont deliver,then this initial advantage that we have will be lost.
Sunil Jain: Youve talked about the Railways needing money. Will you increase passenger fares?
Dinesh Trivedi: I cant reveal my Budget plans but I can tell you my focus. My focus has been safety,safety and safety. You cannot have safety standards without modernising. And in order to do that,I have got to have resources. I have no problem in saying that today,Railways is close to going the way Air India was going. Unless Indian Railways grows at about 10 per cent,Indias GDP cannot grow at 8 per cent. Indian Railways always adds 2-2.5 per cent to the GDP. Given the present structure of Indian Railways,its clogged. Its like your arteries getting clogged. It requires a bypass.
Sunil Jain: So will you bypass what Mamata Banerjee is saying?
Dinesh Trivedi: My duty is to do what is good for the Railways. To be fair to Mamata Banerjee,there is no interference at all. I dont think she even knows what Im doing on the budgeting exercisenobody is supposed to know. She has not told me what to do or not to do. She is concerned about the common man,she doesnt want the common man to be burdened so she would not want fares to go up. But I have got to make sure that I deliver. This subsidy model we have had thus far is not going to work in the long term,it can only work in the shorter period. There are four ways of resource generation. First,government support. Second,internal generation. Third,PPP and the fourth is borrowing. There has to be a good mix of all four.
Coomi Kapoor: Is there a potential to increase the Railways revenues other than by increasing fares?
Dinesh Trivedi: Absolutely. Today,26 per cent of my total revenue comes from the passenger,74 per cent comes from freight. I must have a model by which I can have finances that are sustainable. There are two huge lacunae in the system: Railways people dont understand the customer,they dont understand the revenue model. I have got to change the structure. Another major area is stations. I want railway stations to look like airports. I envisage that in places like Delhi,Mumbai,Kolkata,Chennai,Bangalore,you have 50,000 employees doing nothing but looking after the railway stations. You can have a multiplex there.
Subhomoy Bhattarcharjee: When the Dhall committee looked at changing the norms for public procurement and making it transparent,the Railways representative was one of the main people who dissented,saying there was no reason to change the procurement system in the Railways. Do you intend to revisit that dissent note?
Dinesh Trivedi: I need to make the decision-making process more efficient,more transparent and more reason-oriented. We cannot sit on files,for example a tender. That is just not acceptable. We have to modernise the process of procurement. We have to modernise the selling of scrap. Currently,the procurement process is very complicated. We require huge reforms in our procurement process.
Indian Railways has the capacity to be the engine of growth for the world. But successive governments have not taken the Railways seriously. We have to change the way we think. We are 50 years behind China. There ought to be a national policy on Railways because you cannot depend on the whims and fancies of a minister. The government must also help. Simply giving small amounts as budgetary support is not enough for a paradigm shift. You need money. Im here to generate my own internal resources but thats not enough.
N P Singh: Why do you need government support?
Dinesh Trivedi: Every government collects taxes from the public. Railways is a public utility,it is not a private limited company. Why do governments give money for food security,for water? If India has to be transformed into a modern country,you must have a modern communication and transportation system. We have a national role to perform so that is why government support is definitely necessary.
Vandita Mishra: Some of the recent decisions of Mamata Banerjee have suggested there is a distinct unease with the Congress. She has stalled crucial decisions at the CentreFDI in retail,NCTC. She is also seeking some kind of coordination with non-Congress chief ministers. There has been talk of a new front. Would you comment on these?
Dinesh Trivedi: I think its healthy in a federal structure. We all represent our own constituencies,our own states and if states have their own aspirations there has to a mechanism and that mechanism becomes even more crucial with a fractured mandate. You need some kind of a committee which talks to the government on a regular basis. I dont think it should be taken as Us versus Them or Them versus Her. If you have a different policy on FDI or Teesta,it is quite in order to make a mention and even differ. Constructive differences are good for democracy. Often,in the Cabinet,there are fireworksnothing wrong as long as it is not personality-driven or the motive is not to just strike for the sake of it.
Vandita Mishra: What about FDI in retail?
Dinesh Trivedi: Every political party has its manifesto. The party has a policy on retail that it gave to the people. Here,the major problem is not of policy,it is of communication. Lokpal,for instance,was a great communication problem. How the government handles a situation is very important. Communication with the Opposition is also very important. In our kind of parliamentary democracy,you have to take opposition on board on major issues. On Anna Hazare,had it been me,the first day when he sat at Jantar Mantar and wanted to be part of the drafting committee,I would have called a meeting with the Opposition and said,Look,this is the situation,you tell us what you want,how do we go about it? Communication is the skill of governing and definitely there is some kind of a lapse as far as communication concerned.
Vandita Mishra: Communication between Congress and Trinamool?
Dinesh Trivedi: Not only Congress and Trinamool,I am talking in general. Youve got to talk to the Opposition also.
Vandita Mishra: If Congress had communicated better with Mamata Banerjee,do you think she would have gone along with the policies?
Dinesh Trivedi: I do now know what would have happened. Either you convince or get convinced or agree to differ. Then the acrimony is not there,there is no last-minute panic.
Vandita Mishra: What about (Mamatas) coordination with other non-Congress chief ministers?
Dinesh Trivedi: Theres nothing wrong in it,it is a healthy thing if states get togetheras long as it is for the people and the motive is not to destablilise things.
Swaraj Thapa: Mamata Banerjee almost carried out a campaign on NCTC. You are part of the UPA government,yet you take on the government?
Dinesh Trivedi: But we have different manifestos. If I am in the Cabinet,I have to articulate my issues. Doing that does not mean I am vehemently opposing the issue. There could be a communication gap with us also.
Dilip Bobb: What was Lalu Prasad doing right at Railways that he showed a profit?
Dinesh Trivedi: Ill have to go to Harvard and find out! He didnt have the sixth Pay Commission which has proved very costly. We have 14 lakh employees. And I have to modernise the Railways.
Online reader: Cant the Railways be more like the Delhi Metro in functioning,specifically in the case of revenue generation from advertising?
Dinesh Trivedi: It is common knowledge that Railways is undercharging. We would want to be as efficient as the Metro. As for advertising,it is being done in bits and pieces.
Avishek Dastidar: Is it not time to relook several policy initiatives spelled out in the previous budgets which are no longer viable?
Dinesh Trivedi: My focus is to strengthen the structure. I am absolutely duty-bound to make sure Indian Railways is so capable that we can give the world the best railway system but its going to take time. You will start seeing results in five years but to complete the whole exercise will take ten years.
Muzamil Jaleel: Nowadays,all political parties revolve around individuals. Is there a need for democracy within political parties?
Dinesh Trivedi: The entire political system needs to change. There is no democracy in political parties. The mindset is feudal. If we come into politics to serve our own interests then we will have to serve the interests of the political leader of that party. Then there is no healthy difference of opinion.
Transcribed by Naveed Iqbal & Prawesh Lama