Only a thin line differentiates Socialist populism from the dismantling of a VIP-culture, and the Railway ministry seems to be tottering on it. rather than get down to the hard but unglamorous task of shedding the “risky” tag that now attaches itself to train travel.

Mishaps marked the arrival of the new minister just after they accelerated the exit of his predecessor, but instead of taking solid action to remedy the long-persisting situation, Piyush Goyal appears to be diverting attention away from core shortcomings by creating an impression that the laxity of senior officials of the zonal railways is at the root of the problem.

Farcical rather than dramatic would be the announcement that top officials would no longer be entitled to use saloons which are projected as the ultimate in luxury travel, when they were really mobile offices and comfortable accommodation during inspection tours of small stations in the zone where guest-houses or hotels are non-existent ~ or did not exist when saloons were introduced.

The public would be entitled to know how many saloons remain in operation, how frequently are they used, when were the last set constructed, and just what creature-comforts each saloon offered ~ all of them are not the “five-star” coaches that were earmarked for the President of India of the Chief of the Army Staff.

When last did a “special” start or end its run at the ceremonial section at the southern end of the main platform at the New Delhi station? Making the saloons available for commercial use is another ploy ~ few would use them except the rich and famous, or for “shooting” Bollywood blockbusters. The gradual withdrawal of saloons has actually translated into superficial inspection by top zonal officers ~ no need to spell out the implications of that.

The revised orders on the presence of a host of officials to “welcome” members of the Railway Board would be welcome, provided it also prescribed equally low-key treatment for ministers who use the trains only when air travel is impractical. As for the ban on railway staff working in the households of senior officials an authentic picture of such misuse would be appreciated, would it parallel the sahayak system in the Army? Comparisons are ever odious, but do the Railways boast a facility that matches with the Manekshaw Centre in Delhi Cantonment?

Goyal has to be more circumspect when “selecting” his whipping-boys. The order that railway officers travel sleeper-class would make sense if public buses were also made mandatory for officials of the transport ministry and MPs not entitled to fly “J” class.

Denigrating officials may be par for the course for politicians, but Rail Bhawan has too many serious things to do before becoming a circus arena with a whip-cracking ministerial ring-master.