In what has been described as the worst rail disaster in a century, a series of triangular derailments in Orissa has claimed the lives of 275 individuals, leaving the nation shocked and grieving. The incident has sparked a wave of perplexity and outrage, with initial blame placed on signal system failures and later shifting to suspicions of sabotage, prompting a CBI investigation. Reacting swiftly to the catastrophe, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, visibly shaken and politically embarrassed, visited the disaster zone to oversee the rescue operations and ensure that the injured were promptly transported to hospitals. As the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Modi couldn’t help but contemplate the potential damage to his party’s reputation as they approach the 2024 national elections. While some expected Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw to offer his resignation as a gesture of accountability, the Prime Minister, known for his careful selection of trustworthy individuals, may have decided to retain Vaishnaw due to his expertise and ideas for modernizing India’s rail system.
Despite concerns about an authoritarian style of governance, some suggest that India’s present administration still upholds democratic principles. The ruling BJP may view India’s governance as more democratic than that of many other nations, even drawing inspiration from countries like Turkey, where Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the Justice and Development Party won a third term and is often seen as a powerful leader with significant influence over the country’s constitution. For the opposition, particularly the rejuvenated Congress party and other major regional parties, the devastating rail disaster has provided ammunition to undermine the BJP’s rule and its perceived negligence, resulting in significant loss of life. As the opposition seeks to form a formidable alliance against the BJP for the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha elections, their campaign gains momentum, centering on countering the rise of dominant Hindu chauvinism associated with the BJP. The BJP has also faced setbacks, notably the recent electoral defeat in Karnataka, the only southern state they had previously ruled. The Congress capitalized on the weakened numbers of BJP’s Lok Sabha seats in various states, including Uttar Pradesh. Even in Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP had boasted of a “double engine” government, the party’s electoral prospects may not be as promising as they were in 2019 due to ongoing efforts by regional parties to form alliances with the Congress.
In a positive development for the opposition, the Congress has agreed to participate in a larger meeting of heads of all opposition parties in mid-June, following the initiatives taken by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Kumar’s meetings with senior leaders such as Sharad Pawar (NCP), Congress President M. Kharge, and Rahul Gandhi have laid the groundwork for potential cooperation among various opposition parties. Looking ahead, the Congress party expresses confidence in winning the assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh by 2023. The outcomes in these states will play a crucial role in shaping the political landscape leading up to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. In the wake of the devastating rail disaster, the nation mourns the lives lost and demands answers while the political landscape becomes increasingly charged with uncertainty and calls for accountability.