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Gehlot a friend, says PM amid Rajasthan political tussle


Published on: April 12, 2023 | Updated on: April 13, 2023

Prime Minister Narendra Modi virtually flags off the Vande Bharat Express train connecting Ajmer and Delhi Cantt. at Jaipur Junction railway station, from New Delhi, Wednesday, April 12, 2023. (Photo: PTI)

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday called Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot a "friend" and thanked him for attending the flagging off of the Vande Bharat Express amid political tussles in the desert state. Flagging off Rajasthan’s first Vande Bharat Express virtually, Mr Modi said that the Indian Railways had become an arena of politics under the previous governments and that its modernisation was affected by political considerations.

Thanking the Rajasthan chief minister for being present at the event in Jaipur, Mr Modi said, "I express my special gratitude to Gehlot ji. During these days of political struggle when he is going through several crises, he took out the time for development work and participated in a railway programme. I welcome him."      

On Tuesday, former Rajasthan deputy chief minister and senior Congress leader Sachin Pilot observed a daylong fast in Jaipur, targeting the Gehlot government over its inaction in alleged cases of corruption when the BJP was in power in the state.

The Prime Minister said: "The work that should have been done immediately after Independence had not been done till now. But you have so much faith in me that you have given me that task today."

Mr Modi told Mr Gehlot that his trust in him gives strength to their friendship. "I thank you for the trust you have in this friendship," he said.

Referring to the railway minister and the chairman of the Railway Board, the PM said, "And I want to say, Gehlot ji you have laddoos in both your hands. The railway minister is from Rajasthan and the chairman of the Railway Board is also from Rajasthan."

This is the second time in five months that Mr Modi has praised Mr Gehlot. Last November, when the two shared the dais at an event in Banswara, Mr Modi described Mr Gehlot as the senior-most chief minister in the fraternity of chief ministers. Mr Pilot had then taken a dig at the chief minister over this.

Earlier, during his address at the launch event, Mr Gehlot raised demands related to the railway in Rajasthan and mentioned that for the first time since independence, the Union railway minister is from the state.

Speaking at the flagging-off event of the 15th Vande Bharat train in the country that will operate between Ajmer and Delhi Cantonment stations, the Prime Minister lamented the fact that an important and basic need of the citizens, like the railway, was turned into an arena of politics. "India inherited a fairly large railway network at the time of Independence, but political interests dominated the need for modernisation in the years after Independence. Politics was evident in the selection of the railway minister, the announcement of trains and even in recruitments," he said.

Mr Modi noted that land acquisition was done under the false pretence of railway jobs and many unmanned crossings continued for a very long time. He also talked about the lack of cleanliness and how safety took a back seat.

"The situation took a turn for the better after 2014, when people elected a stable government with a full majority. When the pressure of political give and take receded, the India Railways heaved a sigh of relief and sprinted to new heights," Mr Modi said.

The Prime Minister pointed out that the government at the Center is making Rajasthan a land of new opportunities and said that the Central government has done unprecedented work for the connectivity that is so important for a state like Rajasthan, which has tourism as an important part of its economy.

Mr Modi talked about the Delhi-Dausa-Lalsot section of the Delhi-Mumbai Expressway and said that the section will benefit Dausa, Alwar, Bharatpur, Sawai Madhopur, Tonk, Bundi and Kota districts.

The Prime Minister said that the Central government is working on about 1,400 km of roads in the border areas of Rajasthan and more than 1,000 km of roads are proposed in the state.

Highlighting the priority that is being accorded to connectivity in Rajasthan, the Prime Minister mentioned the start of work on the railway line from Taranga Hill to Ambaji. He said that broad gauging of the Udaipur-Ahmedabad line has already been completed and more than 75 per cent of the railway network has been electrified.

Mr Modi remarked that the Railway Budget for Rajasthan has been increased 14 times since 2014 -- from Rs. 700 crores in 2014 to more than Rs. 9,500 crores this year. "The speed of doubling the railway lines also doubled. The gauge change and doubling have helped tribal areas like Dungerpur, Udaipur, Chittorgarh, Pali and Sirohi. Dozens of stations are being upgraded under the Amrit Bharat Railway Yojana," he said.

Keeping in mind the convenience of the tourists, the Prime Minister said that the government is also running different types of circuit trains and gave the example of Bharat Gaurav circuit trains that have made more than 70 trips so far, ferrying more than 15,000 passengers.

"Be it Ayodhya-Kashi, Dakshin Darshan, Dwarka Darshan, Sikh pilgrimage sites, Bharat Gaurav circuit trains have been run for many such places," he said.