Elphinstone stampede: There's blood on the tracks

The tragedy at railway station took the lives of 22 commuters, while 30 others were grievously wounded.

 |  6-minute read |   30-09-2017
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India of the last three years is a tale of absurd stampedes – stampedes of farcical schemes and campaigns, ending in a grotesque stampede of human lives. One is nearly the metaphor for another. It is easy to blame the NDA-led union government. The honourable government has ensured that this has been made ever so easier.

Moments after the stampede at the Elphinstone Road railway station, on September 29, 2017, in which 22 commuters lost their lives, and 30 were grievously wounded, the Shiv Sena has called for the resignation of the new minister for the railways, Piyush Goyal.

The expenditure of 1.1 lakh crore rupees on bullet train technology seems to be boomeranging, as not only the opposition but also coalition parties have begun using this card to claim that the Prime Minister represents not the nation but only the state of Gujarat.    

Earlier this month, Suresh Prabhu – who was shuffled to the ministry of commerce from railways – was seen as the fall guy for the spate of derailment tragedies that India has been witnessing. On September 27, 2017, in an article in The Indian Express, senior BJP leader, Yashwant Sinha, confirmed the possibilities of a downward spiral in the Indian economy.

He nominated Arun Jaitley as the architect of this imminent crash, staying inches away from including the honourable Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, in the chart. Piyush Goyal is likely to be the next, following the Elphinstone tragedy, with twitterati coming in from all corners claiming they had tweeted to the ministry of railways and the new minister about the hazardous situation of the footbridge connecting the Parel and Elphinstone railway stations, even until a day before the tragedy struck.

One wonders how many more tragedies can this government withstand, or for how much longer will the fringe groups of India keep echoing ineffectual paeans sponsored by the Centre. Like the stampede down the Elphinstone footbridge, at the culmination of the Navratras, there seems to be an invisible stampede within party ranks, at a time when even the gods seem to be conspiring against it. 

But it is hard to say why only the poor must die due to this wrath, while the opposition unexpectedly unites to condemn the government, even before the victims can be taken to the hospital.

Third stampede in two years

Narendra Modi’s message to the Mumbaikars, after the tragedy yesterday morning, was a customised photocopy of his message from the previous year to his own constituency, in Varanasi, after the stampede on October 15, 2016. There too, twenty-four people had lost their lives on the Rajghat bridge, connecting Varanasi and Chandauli. However,

However, honourable Prime Minister has changed a lot since last year. Hence, after two messages of condolences and assurances yesterday, he tweeted five times on the #SwachhataHiSeva campaign.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister tweeted: “My deepest condolences to all those who have lost their lives due to the stampede in Mumbai. Prayers with those who are injured.” Last year he wrote:

(Embed tweet)

However gruesome this metaphor may seem at this stage, given the deaths and wounds from yesterday still fresh with the victims’ families, these stampedes are also a reflection of the merciless and excitable state of our masses. Although the BJP is currently in power, Maharashtra was earlier ruled by the Congress and the NCP, and even before, by the Shiv Sena, who had full authority over the Bombay Municipal Corporation. 

The administrative inefficiencies are bearing results now. Enough has been said about the infrastructural backwardness of the Indian Railways. But the Sena, without sharing an iota of responsibility, or speaking a word on hyper-volatile crowds of India, decided to stage a protest outside the KEM hospital, where the stampede victims had been taken. The gathering of Sena and other opposition leaders led to further stress on the city’s traffic.

When the stampede happened at the Rajghat Bridge, last year, the trigger was a false alarm that the bridge was going to collapse. The organisers were expecting 3000 people, instead, they witnessed a crowd that was 70,000-strong. The year before that, twenty-seven people were killed during another Hindu festival in Andhra Pradesh. 

The incident from yesterday is suspected to have been caused due to a short-circuit alarm which led to panic, and the rushing of waiting passengers, each more anxious for their own life even at the cost of another’s.


Road to hell is full of noble intentions

Yesterday’s tragedy appears to have brought the opposition profound delight. Intermittent blood loss has become a common way to expose the inefficiencies of both the government and an opposition in disarray. The Elphinstone tragedy is not a political issue. It has however been made into one.

Meanwhile, the tragedy makes visible the deep hatred of the political class and the people at large for the central ruling party. It has also made visible the loss of lives that demonetisation and a hasty-GST rollout had led to, somewhat incipiently.

Ironically, tragedy struck the Mumbai suburban railway network on a day when Goyal was in the city to announce hundred new suburban railway services. The spectres of unemployment and economic exaggerations are gnawing at the Centre’s guts, as it begins to seek one fall guy after another. Rather than ask whether the Government can survive the Elphinstone tragedy, it is time to take the opposition to the task.

And it is also time to concede to the NDA-led government that despite the best of their intentions, they have failed to provide basic human rights and justice to the nation. Without contempt or disaffection, we must encourage the current government, and the honourable PM, at the helm, to prepare over the next one and half years to accept its premature demise. This is certainly not the time for pessimism.

Dussehra has shown us that we are on the road to hell. If we collectively acknowledge this, it may help us resurrect. If we don’t, it would be just another example of noble intentions attempted foolishly.

Also read: BHU clash: How to stop our universities from becoming battlegrounds


Arup K Chatterjee Arup K Chatterjee @chatterjeearupk

Author, 'The Purveyors of Destiny: A Cultural Biography of the Indian Railways,' Founder Editor-in-Chief, Coldnoon (International Journal of Travel Writing & Travelling Cultures), Assistant Professor, English Jindal Global Law School, O.P. Jindal Global University.

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