Debilitated democracy
Egypt has reached a grim pass after what has now been confirmed as a military coup against Mohamed Morsi. The army-backed interim government&’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and the wave of arrests ~ the detainees include Morsi and the Brotherhood&’s supreme leader, Mohamed Badie ~ can hardly be conducive for another restoration of democracy. Indeed, the previous ruling entity has lost contact with 250 members of its leadership. Remote must be the prospect of a smooth election and the formation of a government. It is a measure of the deepening crisis that the interim Prime Minister, Hazem al-Beblawi, is yet to put in place his cabinet. The Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Brotherhood, has refused to join a broadbased “unity government”, so-called. Theoretically, there is substance in its claim that its democratically-elected government has been deposed by the military. It is this almost in-built uncertainty that may hobble the evolution of a democratic Egypt, the ultimate goal of the 2011 upheaval in Tahrir Square. The Morsi interregnum has set the clock back; the present military-inspired arrangement is unlikely to register even a semblance of forward movement.   And given the inherent fragility, repeated elections cannot for that matter make for stability.
Post-Mubarak, there are far too many interest groups that are jousting for authority. Chief among them must be the military and the judiciary, both legacies of the ancien regime. The legislature, theoretically pivotal to democracy, has been reduced to a lame-duck entity. The overriding clout of the military in Egypt is decidedly more potent than say in Pakistan or Bangladesh. Another election can at best put in place another government; its survival will depend on its acceptability by the soldiers and the judges, however. Well and truly has it been suggested that Egypt&’s future hangs by a thread. The killing of 50 people outside the Presidential Guard barracks, within a week of Morsi&’s ouster, reaffirms the strength of the legacies of the old order. Political Islam is under attack. At another remove, it is the country&’s tragedy that the Arab Spring has debilitated ~ and not strengthened ~ democracy. Egypt showcases a tragic irony.
Unusual heroics
Nobody could now authentically accuse the armed forces of being indifferent to what they “cost” the nation. Not after a rescue mission of a different kind in the same region where they just performed a mini-miracle braving adverse weather to move thousands of stranded pilgrims to safety in Uttarakhand. And certainly no longer meriting a sarcastic chuckle is the celebrated yarn about the Air Marshal who (years ago) tested a helicopter&’s “mountain-worthiness” by flying it to remote streams where the trout challenged the angler. “Operation Rahat” has all but wound down, but a couple of nights ago the crew of a Dhruv ALH undertook as demanding a mission as any performed in the past few weeks ~ to save their precious flying machine. Late in the evening a landslide was creating havoc at Gaucher, stones and boulders were rolling down the slopes, when the squad realised that their “chopper” parked at an ITBP camp could be at risk.
 No facilities for night-flying were available, but the concern and determination of the aircrew persuaded their superiors to let them “give it a shot”. The lights of a couple of vehicles and some hand-held torches sufficed for them to get the “bird” airborne, then a combination of recent experience, intuition, and raw courage saw them fly their machine through a steady drizzle to a safer locale. Comparisons are odious, human life is priceless, but “saving” an asset worth a few million dollars testifies to a special brand of responsibility and professional commitment. Underscoring the importance of the human element in the man-machine combination.
Watery havoc
The annual spate in North-east rivers is entirely predictable. By May, the monsoon hits the region and the first phase of floods caused by the Brahmaputra and its tributaries has already affected about 150,000 people in 12 districts and destroyed crops over 7,000 hectares. One death has been officially confirmed. According to the state disaster management authority, floods have also hit 12,000 big and small animals in the Kaziranga National Park. The International Fund for Animal Welfare Trust-Wildlife Trust of India has already sent 35 boats for anti-poaching activities. Chief minister Tarun Gogoi did not think it necessary to make an on-the-spot assessment, but Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been kind enough to assure him of all possible help. The monsoon is just half way through and more hard days may be in store for the state. Natural calamities are beyond human control but many lives can be saved if prompt preventive measures are taken, now that it is possible for meteorologists to forecast weather conditions days in advance.
So far the government&’s flood prevention measures are confined to construction of embankments, bundhs, anti-erosion schemes and strengthening and repairing of these every year at huge cost. It will be impossible to tame the Brahmaputra, but some years ago a senior North East Electric Power Corporation functionary did suggest that it would be possible to check the perennial floods in Upper Assam by building upstream reservoirs. Unfortunately there are not many to orchestrate this.