Thiruvananthapuram | Kerala, which had witnessed intense protests due to which the state government had to shelve its proposed flagship Silver Line semi-high-speed rail corridor project, will get a new Vande Bharat Express train from the Centre soon.
Though an official announcement is yet to come, the state BJP leadership confirmed on Friday that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would make the big announcement on his arrival in the state later this month.
They described it as a "Vishu kaineettam" to the people of the state from the Centre and the Prime Minister. According to tradition, elders of the family give gifts, especially money, to members of the house as "kaineettam" on the day of the harvest festival "Vishu", which falls on Saturday, April 15, this year.
The unexpected arrival of rakes of the semi-high speed train in Palakkad this morning from Chennai evoked a great response among local people, who thronged the station along with BJP workers to get a glimpse of it and accord it a grand reception.
Railway officials of the train were garlanded, and sweets were distributed among them by saffron party activists celebrating the occasion. "I am so glad to see that the coaches of an express train like Vande Bharat are arriving in my state. I am in my late 70s, and I am so happy to know that I can travel in an express train in Kerala soon," an elated elderly man told reporters at Palakkad railway station.
Union Minister V Muraleedharan and state BJP president K Surendran said the new Vande Bharat Express was a "Vishu Kaineettam" by PM Modi to the people of the state.
In a Facebook post, Surendran also criticised their political opponents. "Those who have been making fun of (us) over Vande Bharat are now lamenting that they have not been informed about its arrival," he said.
He also said it was "childish" to allege that the prestigious train was being introduced in the state only in view of the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.
Sharing the same sentiments, Muraleedharan said the Prime Minister had now given an answer to those who raised doubts over the introduction of the Vande Bharat Express in Kerala, and thanked Modi and the railway minister for allotting it to the southern state.
He told reporters here that the semi-high-speed train would accelerate the development of Kerala.
Taking a dig at the Pinarayi Vijayan-led state government here over its shelved Silver Line project, he said the Centre does not bring development by evicting tens of thousands of people.
"The state government is trying to implement the Silver Line by evicting thousands of people. But, the Centre is bringing Vande Bharat for the smooth journey of everyone without causing any difficulty to anyone," he said.
He also rejected the charges of a political agenda behind the allotment and said the PM had made such announcements ahead of his visits before as well.
CPI(M) Lok Sabha member A M Ariff and UDF MP N K Premachandran welcomed the unexpected allotment of the Vande Bharat Express to Kerala but opined that it could not be seen as a special consideration shown by the Modi government to the southern state.
Ariff said the traffic issues in Kerala could not be resolved by the arrival of a single train.
Rejecting BJP leaders' claims that the train was PM's gift to the people of the state, Premachandran said there was no need to attribute any politics to it and that Kerala had been allotted the new train just as many other states have.
V Abdurahiman, the minister in charge of railway affairs in the state, said he would respond only if the state government received an official confirmation in this regard.
The arrival of Vande Bharat is likely to be a hot political topic during the 2024 Lok Sabha polls in the state, as the BJP leaders and workers are claiming that the train was allotted to the state thanks to the PM's care for Keralites.
BJP leaders are calling the Vande Bharat train the answer to the state government's charges that the Centre was creating hurdles in the development path of Kerala by denying permission to its ambitious Silver Line project, which it was forced to shelve due to intense protests by local people.
The Silver Line project was envisaged to cover a 530-kilometre stretch from Thiruvananthapuram to Kasaragod and was to be developed by K-Rail, a joint venture of the Kerala government and the Ministry of Railways.
It was planned that the semi-high-speed rail line would have 11 stations and be built at an estimated cost of around Rs 64,000 crore.
Also known as K-Rail, the mammoth project was opposed by parties, including the Congress and the BJP, as well as by the local people in some parts of the State.