MAIL TODAY COMMENT.
BHARATIYA JANATA Party president Nitin Gadkari and senior leader Sushma Swaraj invoking Ram at a rally at Karnal on Sunday is a significant development. Speaking at the rally in Haryana, the senior party leaders promised to establish Ram rajya and Shiv Shahi ( Shivaji's reign) regime if voted to power.
In this context, it may not be a coincidence that Sunday also saw party renegade and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh being hosted by Mr Gadkari at his residence, with reports saying that decks had been cleared for his return to the party.
These developments need to be viewed in the backdrop of the Congress party launching its cash- for- transfer scheme with which it hopes to woo the electorate in the run- up to the general elections. The Samajwadi Party has already announced its first list of candidates for the Lok Sabha elections. With the buzz growing about the general election being advanced to mid- 2013 -- the BJP leaders spoke of it repeatedly at Karnal on Sunday -- going back to Ram may be the BJP's answer to the initiatives taken by rivals.
This seems even more likely given that the party's anti- corruption campaign against the Congress has somewhat lost its sheen after charges of irregularities were levelled against Mr Gadkari.
This also fits in well with the possibility of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi being put forth as the party's prime ministerial candidate in case he wins the Assembly elections handsomely. A Modi at the helm of the BJP's election campaign and Hindutva as a defining feature of its electoral agenda are certain to stir the cauldron in the politically vital state of Uttar Pradesh, which with upwards of 80 MPs to send to the Lok Sabha is a prize all parties are eyeing.
Walk the talk on Rlys
THE RETURN of the railways ministry to the Congress party after a gap of 16 years has come as a huge opportunity to turn the ailing entity around. For years, the Indian railways acted primarily as a vehicle for regional satraps to dole out sops to their own state.
Whether it was Mamata Banerjee, Lalu Prasad Yadav or Nitish Kumar, each one of them ended up directing most of the new rail traffic and investment towards their own state.
The result was a railway system that functioned with the high- operating ratio -- indicating how much of its revenue goes to operational expenditure -- of nearly 95 per cent and has been unable to make much progress on a whole slew of projects, many of which now appear to be unviable.
In this context, word from the ministry -- now headed by Pawan Kumar Bansal with Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury as minister of state -- about changes being in store is welcome.
Mr Bansal has said that ' hard decisions' will be made, suggesting passenger fares -- considered untouchable because of popular political pressure -- could see a hike. But alongside this, there is indication that the ministry will turn its focus on selling off sick PSUs, trimming down staff strength and evaluating pending projects.
It is now for Mr Bansal to ensure that this positive intent gets reflected in the rail budget.
Hockey still has hope
THE RESPONSE to the Hockey India League auction is heartening, with close to $ 3.1 million ( ` 16 crores) being spent on 120 players. More so since doomsayers had predicted the end of the road for our hockey after India flopped at the London Olympics.
While star player Sardar Singh is worth the ` 42.90 lakh that has been spent on him by Delhi Waveriders, it is a bit surprising that dumped Indian penalty corner expert Sandeep Singh was picked up by the Mumbai franchisee for ` 42 lakhs.
It would clearly be foolish to compare the hockey auction with that for the Indian Premier League. For, hockey still ranks low in popularity in comparison to cricket though the launch of this format with a strong foreign presence -- of players like Jamie Dwyer, Teun de Mooijer and Moritz Fuertse -- has the potential to draw crowds to the game.
More importantly, that substantial money has been spent by bidders to buy players augurs well for the future of hockey in India.
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