The deadly rail accident in Odisha’s Balasore on Friday has put Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw under pressure as many have demanded that he resign to demonstrate responsibility for the tragedy.

At least 275 people were killed and 900 others were injured in a collision involving three trains, making it one of India’s worst railway disasters.

However, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its supporters have vociferously extended their backing for the embattled railway minister, praising his work ethic and highlighting his credentials.

Vaishnaw under pressure

Among those who has called for Vaishnaw to resign is Rahul Gandhi of the Congress. “No accountability even after 270+ deaths!” Gandhi tweeted on Saturday. “The Modi government cannot run away from taking responsibility for such a painful accident. The prime minister should immediately seek the resignation of the railway minister!”

Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar and Trinamool Congress leader Abhishek Banerjeemade similar demands.

Some social media users too have called for Vaishnaw to resign on moral grounds. The railway minister also drew criticised for chanting celebratory slogans at the accident site, even as bodies were still being recovered from the wreckage.

Defending Vaishnaw

However, Vaishnaw argued on Saturday that it was “not [the] time to do politics”. “This is time to focus on making sure that restoration happens at the earliest,” hesaid.

More importantly, Vaishnaw has secured backing of his party and its supporters.

Amit Malviya, the head of the BJP’s Information Technology cell said that the Balasore accident should not be politicised.

Mohan Sinha is a journalist and author followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Twitter.

Dinesh Trivedi, a former railway minister and a BJP leader, used the same logic. “Can you guarantee that if Ashwini ji resigns, railway system will be very good, no accident or sabotage will take place?” Trivedi told India Today. “The Opposition would want the whole Cabinet to resign, but that’s not the mandate of the people”.

Republic Bharat, a Hindi language news channel widely seen as supportive of the BJP, on Sunday praised Vaishnaw and attacked the Opposition for “playing politics over people’s deaths” by calling for his resignation.

Screenshot of Republic Bharat's broadcast streamed on YouTube on Sunday.
Screenshot of Republic Bharat's broadcast streamed on YouTube on Sunday.

Some defended Vaishnaw by attempting to juxtapose his actions in the aftermath of the Balasore crash with a rail accident under the Congress-led Union government in 2011 when, they alleged, a Union minister had refused to visit the site.

Rishi Bagree’s Twitter account is followed by Modi.

In a similar vein, News18 listed safety records under former railway ministers who are now Opposition leaders to question their demands for Vaishnaw’s resignation.

Suvendu Adhikari is a BJP leader from West Bengal

Several social media users used the hashtag “#StandwithAshwiniVaishnaw” on Twitter to praise and defend Vaishnaw.

Praised for work ethic

Justifying this support for Vaishnaw, some BJP leaders and party supporters have praised him for his work ethic. “Your gesture clearly indicates your work culture, [you] take [your] work, seva as worship,” said Mayur Vaidya, the Maharashtra unit chief of BJP workers’ wing.

Sunil Deodhar is the national secretary of the BJP.
Vivek Agnihotri is a film maker whose films have been lauded by BJP leaders.

Times Now Navbharat, a Hindi language news channel, sought to highlight how Vaishnaw became emotional while talking to the media about the rescue operations.

Some others argued that Vaishnaw is the best-suited person to handle the situation and develop the Indian Railway.

Suhel Seth, a businessperson, often subscribes to the ruling BJP’s views on television news channel debates.
Shefali Vaidya is a columnist at pro-Modi government site, OpIndia.

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