Disaster of politics
The politics of one-upmanship has had its worst manifestation at a wrong time and at a wrong place. The shouting and jostling between senior...
None of these worthies, whose heart is bleeding and who have been exhibiting their concern for the Telugus who got stuck in the hill State during the unprecedented floods, had time or heart to visit at least one of the 33,340 farmers who have committed suicide in the State since 1998 or several hundred students and other youth who killed themselves for the cause of statehood. Now we see the political leaders quarreling among themselves for the sake of political mileage out of the disaster. They are looking like street urchins fighting for a loaf of bread. What a shame!
The drama of aerial surveys also needs to be exposed and condemned. What was that Sonia Gandhi, UPI chairperson, and Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister, found in their survey flying thousands of feet above the affected area? That the floods are of epic proportions and the MPs and MLAs have to contribute their one-month salary to the relief and rehabilitation work could have been said even without going there.
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and AICC Vice-President Rahul Gandhi had no business disturbing the relief operations being carried out by the beleaguered Uttarakhand State administration. Instead of rushing there, the leaders in responsible positions should have sent post-haste more helicopters to rescue the stranded persons. They should have monitored the operations from their offices in Delhi. The Army should have been sent much earlier with more equipment and aircraft.
The only means to reach the people who were stuck in unreachable places was helicopters which can be used for airlifting people or airdropping food and medicine to those who are starving. But politicians are more worried about photo opportunity. No one wants to lag behind. Going to the flood-affected areas when relief operations are at their peak is the same as visiting hospitals to console the victims of terror attacks causing inconvenience to the victims as well as to other patients. The administration which is hard pressed has to divert its already stretched resources to provide logistics for the VIP visits.
PV Narasimha Rao, when he was Prime Minister, would never go visiting sites of accidents or terror attacks or disasters for fear of causing dislocation in relief work. He was criticized for his attitude. But that was the right thing to do.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has not released the full amount of relief he promised to Uttarakhand. Providing financial, material and logistic support is more important than going to the affected area physically and putting an avoidable strain on the official machinery.
The response of the Andhra Pradesh government to the tragedy is utterly lacking in imagination, sympathy or dynamism. There is AP Disaster Management Authority at the State level on the lines of the National Disaster Management Authority. The authority lacks any real authority. These are toothless bodies meant to rehabilitate retired or unwanted officers. Marri Sashidhar Reddy was not of any great help as he has no administrative powers; his is only an advisory role.
News channels have been showing gut-wrenching scenes of dead bodies and large swathes of towns under several feet of silt. The news about 400 pilgrims from AP left high and dry at Badrinath came to light only on Tuesday. They did not have food, medicine, blankets or even water for more than a week. Vijay Bahuguna says a couple of hundreds have perished. The unofficial figure is 5000. We will never be able to know the exact number of persons who died. There is no way to count the pilgrims and tourists who went there. The bodies of those who were washed away by the floods would be found downstream some days later. But the number of those who were buried under silt will never be known.
The Char Dham pilgrims were in thousands and the tourists usually flock to the hills during summer. Those who are in know of the terrain and the behavior of the rivers advise people to visit the hill State before May end. June is risky. But travel to those parts in July is inviting trouble. Those who believe that even an ant would not move without Siva's order would not heed any advice. But then, the fury the Nature unleashed two weeks ago was unprecedented in recent memory.
The warnings given by the CAG and the ecologists have never been taken seriously by governments. When there is a debate in the country, which is supposed to be an emerging economy that is going to be the third largest, only after China and the US, by 2050, on growth versus environment, people who matter vote for the former. The environmentalists whine and fall silent after a while.
Though the cloudburst is a natural disaster there is considerable contribution by man. Construction of scores of dams and hotels on the banks of the Ganga and its tributaries has caused a lot of damage to ecology. The contractor-industrialist mafia, which include some Telugu leading lights, colluding with greedy politicians and ever-obliging bureaucrats have been going crazy with plans to build hundreds of dams across the Ganga and its tributaries like Bhagirathi, Alaknanda, Mandakini and Gauriganga. The Bahuguna government does not, in fact, need these many projects. But it is evidently in the hands of contractors and private power producers.
Sonia and Manmohan should have called Jayanti Natarajan, Union Minister for Environment and Forest, soon after going back from Dehradun aerial survey and asked her what happened to her 2010 December order declaring a 130-km stretch from Gomukh to Uttarakasi as eco-sensitive zone mandating a ban on all construction activity along the river. The nexus of builders and politicians successfully brought pressure on Vijay Bahuguna who, in turn, made an appeal to the Union Minister to keep the order in abeyance. She had no qualms about doing just that. Her order is yet to be enforced.
Same was the attitude of the earlier BJP Chief Minister Pokhrial Nishank. It is doubtful if the present disaster would bring any change in their attitude. They are least concerned about human life. They worship only money. We can abuse our politicians at any length. But we must gratefully thank the brave jawans of our Army and paramilitary forces who risked their lives to save the victims. Let us pray for the dead, including the nine persons who were on board the rescue chopper of the Indian Air Force which crashed on Tuesday while returning from Kedarnath.
The Army has rescued more than a lakh of persons. Army personnel are trying to save about 4000 persons who are believed to be stranded at Badrinath and other places in the hills. The tales of the pilgrims and tourists who returned are heart-rending. The emotional scenes of the kith and kin who went to railway stations to receive the pilgrims have been moving.
We should not forget to thank the volunteers who reached the affected areas and administered first aid and supplied food to the victims. The RSS workers and volunteers of Baba Ramdev did not wait for any vehicles or helicopters. They went there on their own like good Samaritans. There was no trace of Rahul's youth brigade. The Seva Dal volunteers of the Congress party were not to be seen.
The activity of the politicians of Andhra Pradesh started with the arrival of TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu from the US in the wee hours of Sunday. He plunged into relief activity on his own. He air-dashed to Delhi and then to Dehradun and made a lot of noise. Naidu also distributed money and arranged for aircraft. His initiative and the speed with which he responded to the crisis has shown Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy as impassive.
Reddy had to take the next flight to Delhi to make his own noise of rescuing the affected people. With the general election just 10 months away, it is only to be expected that politicians would vie to score points. All said and done, Naidu's dynamism has spurred the Congress leaders into action. The ugly scenes at Dehradun airport were the result of this competition to be seen as pro-people.
Congress leaders have been extremely critical of the way Modi proceeded to Dehradun like a Rambo and tried to rescue people from his State. Those who are critical of Modi have to learn a few lessons in administration from him. Madhu Kishwar, founder of Manushi, and a professor living in Delhi, is not exactly an admirer of Modi. But she has a few good things to say about the way NaMo conducted his rescue operation.
Modi called Dr Pranav Pandya of the All World Gayatri Parivar at Dehradun to provide space and infrastructure in his Shanti Kunj campus for the relief centre to be set up by Gujarat government. The Kunj has 2000 swayamsevaks on the campus and about 3000 students of Dev Sanskriti University. All were pressed into service. Gujarat has a fighting-fit bureaucracy. The Gujarat Disaster Management Authority has become a thoroughly professional institution capable of responding to natural or man-made disasters. Modi formed Team Gujarat and led it from the front.
There is no point in grudging when Modi tries to get some political mileage for the good work he has done. But the Congress was upset because its chief minister in Uttarakhand has proved to be unequal to the challenge and his State machinery was in disarray. Ashok Gehlot of Rajasthan, a Congress chief minister, was better than others in his party. The less we talk about Andhra Pradesh politicians the better. They are a disaster.