The punctuality of locomotives holds a peculiar fascination for the Indian masses. “At least the trains ran on time” has been used to excuse everything, from colonialism to the Emergency, and the chronic tardiness of the Indian railways has become a symbol, justified or not, of sarkari inefficiency. Now, Southern and Northern Railway have figured out something that casinos and crime bosses have long known: If you can’t beat the game, change the rules. Railway Ministry officials have, in view of increased delays due to large-scale maintenance works, increased the travel time of some 95 trains. Effectively, these trains, like royalty, can never be late. The subjects will adjust.
Smart alec naysayers may say, as is their wont, that changing the schedule to claim trains run on time is cheating — a bit of bureaucratic fiddling that makes sure the system meets targets and looks good. Such confirmed cynics fail to see the bigger picture. Like the parent who discovers that children must follow their dreams after watching 3 Idiots, the Government of India is on a path of openness and understanding. Unlike an earlier era, where targets were set and went by unmet, leading to a sense of failure and despondency, officialdom can now sleep well knowing that they don’t need to speed up because their goalposts will meet them half-way.
In fact, the initiative by the Railways can serve as a model, which will ensure that India will become the long-promised Superpower Utopia in a matter of days. Too much poverty? Just change the definition, shift the line. Fuel prices are rising? Just shrink the size of the tank — a full tank will cost half as much. The youth are unemployed? Don’t be silly, the ranks of the self-employed are swelling. Hunger? Let them eat pakoda. And if all that isn’t enough, at least the trains will run on time.