Evil triumphed on the railway track near Amritsar at sunset even when its conquest was being celebrated. Evil in the shape of the criminal, callous, disregard to safety that is evident at all public events across the country. Inquiries are routinely conducted after which only the fall-guys get penalised, “compensation” is announced, condolences are offered, sometimes in Parliament too, VIP trips are deferred or curtailed ~ but concerns evoked by the tragedy are overtaken no sooner than the incident fails to be front page news.

No word is more misused in this country than “accident”: every mishap is the outcome of the negligence to which the Indian people stand condemned. It will be no different this time around, after all the loss of some 60 lives will not impact an electoral outcome.. And the same holds true when bridges collapse, boats capsize, fire rages through high-rise structures and hospitals ~ even the blame-games are short-lived.

That at least 61 persons were mowed by a fast-moving train at a Dussehra celebration raises troubling queries. The municipal authorities say no formal permission was sought or granted, but civic/police officials ought to have been aware that effigies were sited in close proximity to the railway line. And regardless of what they might now say, would they have denied permission for a show at which as high-profile a political personality as Navjot Kaur Sidhu was the chief guest? It was no local affair.

The cops would have been aware that people would scamper when the effigies went up in flames. So too the railways cannot profess ignorance of a crowd collecting near the track for a better view of the fireworks and advised the drivers of all trains on that section to proceed with caution ~ it was an urban area, so not a case of stray cattle on the track. Piyush Goyal assumed office in Rail Bhawan after a couple of mishaps caused his predecessor to step aside ~ but the smug minister has failed to inject even a modicum of efficiency into the critical aspect of safety. It is with trepidation that the people await a bullet train racing through the western metropolis ~ the track may be more sophisticated, what about the gangmen who will patrol it?

This is not just a railway issue. Soon there could be reports of people drowning when immersing images that will further choke half-dry waterways; fires on Diwali are commonplace. Life goes on even as a DMU ploughs through a festive gathering.

This government has launched numerous welfare schemes, each one craftily captioned. How about a Prime Minister’s Safety-Consciousness Drive to tackle as fiery an issue as the burning of paddy-straw in northern India.? It too will pay electoral dividends ~ eventually. And in the interim, even a marginal decline in accidental deaths will provide the NDA another lash with which to whip the UPA.