The article originally appeared on India Today.
Here it is a bit modified and extended.
Resigning on moral ground – now that is a rare phenomenon in Indian politics and Indian Railways is its most relevant example at the moment.
14 coaches of Patna-Indore express got derailed near Kanpur around 3 AM today. The death toll has reached at 126 which is expected to go up. There are some 150 injured. This is the most tragic rail accident in the last seven years. Yet we have not heard from anyone in the political establishment who run the Indian Railways tendering or offering his or her resignation on this deadly train accident, even if it has to be a symbolic act.
Current rail minister Suresh Prabhu is India’s 43rd rail minister who assumed the office in November 2014. When we chart the trajectory of Indian Railways since the first rail minister Asaf Ali, who was in-charge September 2, 1947 to August 14, 1947, we find just two instances of rail ministers resigning on moral ground after a major train accident.
The first one is the one that is one of the most quoted instances of politics of probity and integrity in the public life. Then Rail Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri had resigned from his post taking moral responsibility of the Ariyalur train accident in Tamil Nadu in November 1956. 142 people were killed in the accident. Prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru had described Shastri as a man of highest integrity after his resignation. The act had seen Shastri’s popularity surging who later on oversaw other ministerial portfolios before becoming India’s prime minister.
Though train accidents didn’t stop after it, it took a long gap 43 years for a rail minister to show such a courage in the aftermath of a train disaster. Rail minister Nitish Kumar resigned taking moral responsibility of the Gaisal train disaster in Assam in August 1999 that had killed at least 290 people.
A year after that, though rail minister Mamata Banerjee had resigned from her post taking moral responsibility after two train disasters in 2000, then prime minister Atal Bihari had Vajpayee rejected her resignation.
There will always be this debate that why should a rail minister resign after a train accident. But then who will explain that in spite of all the tall claims why Indians continue to lose lives in train disasters? Since 2000-2001, India has seen over 2800 train accidents. Even during Suresh Prabhu’s term, who some say is a competent rail minister, the Indian Railways has had at least eight major train accidents. And 87% of all train accidents in India are due to human error/failure. Can they answer why the Indian Railways, our country’s life line, is still carrying the burden of the British rule era?