Under the stewardship of E. Sreedharan and his successor, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) had earned repute as a public sector undertaking which kept its mission promises and delivered quality services on schedule. In part, it stood apart from its faltering peers because it had successfully insulated itself from the politics of the day. But it appears to have abandoned the professional ethic created by its first managing director. For the first time, it has allowed itself to become embroiled in a political controversy surrounding the inauguration of its Magenta Line, at which the prime minister and the Uttar Pradesh chief minister officiated — the latter braving the famous “Noida jinx”, the political gremlin which apparently unseats Uttar Pradesh chief ministers who travel to Noida. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal faced no such existential threat but he was not invited, and his conspicuous absence is being read as the fruit of a history of political animus. It may be recalled that Kejriwal had challenged the PM in Varanasi in the last general election.
The DMRC is in the clear only on technical and territorial grounds. The event was organised by the Noida Authority and the guest list was provided by the Uttar Pradesh government. However, the DMRC is the prime mover rather than an innocent bystander, and should have insisted that all stakeholders be present for the inauguration. Yogi Adityanath’s principal secretary Awanish Awasthi has clarified that the Delhi Chief Minister was not invited because the inaugural run was restricted to Noida. The clarification is unconvincing and fails to mask the pettiness in keeping the CM out. Kejriwal’s exclusion also betrays an unexpected lack of comprehension concerning who and what the Delhi Metro is for, and whose it is. The Delhi government is an equity participant in the project, and the state’s cabinet approves expansion plans. The project was conceived to decongest the entire National Capital Region by providing connectivity across state borders. The Magenta Line, for instance, would be most useful for commuters who live in Gurgaon and work in Noida, or vice versa. Both host vast sprawls of homes and businesses, and needed to be connected via Delhi by mass rapid transit. In this light, not only should Kejriwal have been invited, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar should have graced the occasion, too, for his state has a substantial interest in the matter.
While this is the DMRC’s first brush with party politics, it had earlier revealed that it no longer understands that the Delhi Metro is itself a political intervention. Recent ticket price hikes have reduced ridership by three lakh passengers per day, defeating the main purpose of the project — decongestion of the urban sprawl. Profitability is not DMRC’s foremost objective, and it should not allow itself to become embroiled in party politics either.