Rlys returns to Cong after 17 yrs, brings it opportunity

In handing over the reins of the Indian Railways to Pawan Kumar Bansal, the Congress has finally got hold of the coveted and much sought-after ministry after a gap of almost 17 years a period which saw Railways becoming a monopoly of allies from either Bihar or West Bengal.

With the 2013 Rail Budget being the last of UPA 2, Bansal's elevation to Rail Bhavan has not just given Congress a chance to break free of the Bihar-Bengal shackles, but also a handle to extracts political returns before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

Immediately after his appointment on Sunday, Bansal, currently in his third consecutive term as Chandigarh MP, made the right noises: "It shall be my endeavour to ensure that every region and state of our vast country gets its due regarding development of railway infrastructure and services," he said.

He added the Railways have to keep sound physical and financial health, so that it becomes a veritable engine of growth for the nation. For him, the task would also be to bring the fruits of railway services and infrastructure to the northern states that have remained largely ignored during the terms of ministers who preceded him.

After Swaran Singh Sardar (Punjab, railway minister from 1962-63), Gulzari Lal Nanda (Haryana, 1970-71) and Bansi Lal (Haryana, 1984-86), Bansal is only the fourth politician from a north Indian state in Rail Bhavan. Sunday's appointment is likely, therefore, to raise hopes in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir.

The last Congress minister before Bansal to have headed the railway ministry was C K Jaffer Sharief from 1991-95. Since then not counting a two-month tenure for the BJP's Ram Naik in 1999 the ministry has always been with an MP from either Bihar or Bengal. Since 1995, Ram Vilas Paswan, Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad, Mamata Banerjee, Dinesh Trivedi and Mukul Roy have been railway ministers.

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