The severity of the floods, in which no fewer than 102 people have perished across 12 districts in Bihar, lends no scope for showboating by the chief minister, as was evident during his “official visit” to the relief camps on Monday. To take a charitable view of the government’s response, Nitish Kumar’s visit was organised rather late in the day, arguably after the worst had happened.
With hundreds of thousands starving for want of relief, it is almost incredible that the Chief Minister was greeted at every relief camp by what they call a “green carpet” grandstanding, and unashamedly so in Darbhanga, Katihar and Sitamarhi.
No less astonishing must be the fact that he willingly accepted the reception accorded by the district administrations amidst the overwhelming privation and death. He may even have been mildly flattered by this sycophancy at its worst. Thus did the state’s head of government reduce himself to an object of ridicule… and not by Rabri Devi alone. The stark contradiction in the moment of a devastating calamity has ignited a wave of protests that are two-fold in nature ~ a cry for immediate relief and medicare and a collective condemnation of what the Chief Minister’s detractors called a “cruel joke” against lakhs of people who have lost their hearth and home.
The overwhelming expression of angst has given way to violence, with the victims assaulting officials on Monday for not providing relief. Indeed, in the midst of the floods, Bihar languishes between two contrarian positions ~ woefully inadequate relief and a green carpet reception for the Janata Dal (United) leader and head of government.
The Chief Minister has generally been blamed for not tackling the floods with the seriousness that it deserved. His government’s rescue and relief operations have been superficial at best and direly negligent at worst.
It is in stark contrast too to the heroic efforts of the Odisha chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, when Cyclone Fani recently struck the state’s coastal areas, even the capital of Bhubaneswar. It would be useful to recall that the relief and reconstruction effort in another state in eastern India was readily appreciated abroad as well, most notably in The New York Times.
In Bihar, where floods are an annual scourge, the administrations in the districts and in Patna have only themselves to blame for the mounting murk, matched by the bizarre anxiety to please the Chief Minister during a period of acute distress. Small wonder that victims of Katihar have in the presence of Nitish rejected the so-called relief materials.
Rightly have they shrilled for a permanent solution to the annual malaise. Of which there has been little or no effort on the part of the government. Even a fortnight after the rivers started rising, relief hasn’t reached the Dumra block in Sitamari district. The alacrity that marked the rolling of the green carpet at every relief camp ought also be reflected in terms of relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation. Bihar languishes in every parameter. JD(U) has failed the people.