Lord Krishna was born this day, so we now call it Krishna Janmashtami. Scriptures say Krishna spent his childhood tending to cows and was very protective of them.
A few millennia later, in 2006, then Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav famously declared that the Indian Railways is a milch cow. If not milked fully, it will fall sick.
How well the Indian Railways was milked in previous decades is fodder for another day.
Like a good politician, LPY forgot to tell Harvard that Indian Railways had lovingly embraced his strategy well before he revealed it to the world. After all, humans put gravity to use for thousands of years before Newton revealed its existence.
For many Indians, IR is a cow that you milk secure, well-paying jobs out of. Politicians love the cow for the dung – dubious projects they can slap onto their constituency walls. 1.2 million employees and 15 lakh pensioners depend on the mammoth cow for lifelong shelter and nourishment.
One likes to believe that these are symbiotic relationships. The uncharitable suggest they look like more of the host-parasite type.
Sustenance of these beneficiaries has become the cow’s primary raison d’être. The less important purpose is to move freight and passengers. And so, the cow unwillingly provides almost-free rides to billions. The primary beneficiaries insist it is cow’s duty to not demand much in return for becoming a beast of burden.
Over the decades, all beneficiaries have convinced themselves that milking this cow hard enough, as LPY suggested, is the way to keep it healthy. And so, they go about their work with renewed vigour.
Naturally, the cow has become weaker.
The job-seekers see it move and so, like innocent calves, they demand ever-flowing milk. The politicians hear it moo, and so they demand more dung for their constituencies. The third lot feel the warmth and the beating heart, and so they keep drilling through the skin.
The unsteady gait and the buckling legs go unnoticed.
In 2012 – six years after his Harvard Revelation – LPY, no longer the master, declared the cow had gone dry. By 2016, in deep trouble thanks to his fodder procurement and catering skills, LPY declared the cow had derailed.
What went wrong? Perhaps he forgot to tell Harvard that the cow needs nourishment too. His milking strategy works as long as the cow remains well-fed and looked after.
Ideally, the cow should be Atmanirbhar as our Prime Minister insists everyone ought to be. The cow should roam free, nourish itself first and work well for its master. It ought to demand adequate compensation for the rides it gives away.
But there is a problem. The beneficiaries, long accustomed to easy milk, gratis patties, rides, shelter and nourishment worry. A change could upset the cow-cart. From their perspective, the status quo is the only one that works. Opening doors to private players could derail the gravy-train.
So, they shout louder, whip harder and bite deeper.
But the loving cow gets weaker and weaker.
Note: For the purists: we do not know if the animal in the featured image is a cow or a bull. But it is the only one we have of one peering into a train window. So it will have to do.
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