Rescue workers at the crash site, June 3, 2023 (Photo: AFP)
LAST WEEK’S HORRIFIC train accident has once again proved that while there are a lot of changes in India, there are some things that don’t change. And the most pernicious one is the desire for the right optics in the wake of a mammoth human tragedy. The desire on the part of politicians to milk any form of human misery is now uniquely Indian. So much for us being a developed economy and so on. And it’s the same unchanged playbook.
The railway minister must reach the accident site as if there is something he can do except think of the words of his resignation letter since some stupid people will clamour for that. Not to mention people baying for the ruling party’s blood rather than tweeting or retweeting blood donation calls, and the charade continues merrily until the next accident. I have never understood why only the railway minister needs to resign and not the CEO of the Railway Board or the Member Engineering or Member Signals. It’s akin to asking Bill Marriott to resign if there is an accident at any Marriott property. Stupid, to say the least!
The really dumb amongst us will hasten to quote the past and mention how rail ministers in the past resigned whenever there was an accident. That’s because they were irresponsible publicity-seeking vultures. This phrase “moral responsibility” is nothing but tokenism and escapism of the worst kind. We don’t need ministers to be responsible: we need them to be accountable and it is high time that those who govern this country understood the difference between responsibility and accountability. Ashwini Vaishnaw is a superb minister with impeccable academic credentials and proven work experience. Must he be sacrificed to some baying wolves who have nothing to do or prove? What is truly shameful is how people descend on these accident sites hampering the work that is going on and distracting the hard work of rescue workers and caregivers.
In our country, being obsequious is a way of life. So, you can well imagine how from the state governor to the chief minister to all the senior officials will be waiting in attendance for the prime minister. And the fault is not that of the politician alone. We are the ones who’ve become bloodhounds. Damned if he goes and damned if he doesn’t, but then folks like these people in power must recognise that there are times in a nation’s history when doing the right thing is more important than doing what is popular or electorally savvy.
And I am not even talking about the media though one has to admit that the media in India has come a long way and is showing more sensitivity and gravitas whilst covering these horrific tragedies. When accidents such as this happen, what is needed is an investigation, not to satisfy the media or the opposition, or even the citizens: it is necessary to prevent this from happening again. But in our rush to do the popular thing, what we miss are the remedial measures that need to be taken. Akin to Operation Successful, Patient Dead.
We are in the throes of national development like one can’t imagine but it’s the weakest link that needs to be strengthened. The railways are the lifeline of this country and will remain so. We need safe trains, not fast ones. We need hospitals that can save lives and not cover bodies with white sheets. We need better paramedics and early responders: this is the hallmark of true development.
One hates to say this, but this is unlikely to be the last accident. Accidents are precisely that: accidents. But more than a routine investigation, can we reimagine how we will be prepared for these eventualities and get rid of the photo-op and replace it with genuine help bereft of optics? That will be the true test and a lesson well learnt.