That it took the loss of some 20 young lives in Surat to burst the bubble of euphoria over the electoral verdict is a grim index of how ground realities count for so very little in what is mistakenly called the national debate.
Did the drum-beating, dancing, or distribution of sweets come to a halt? Did any of the newly-elected “representatives of the people” have the moral courage to admit that they share some of the blame for their criminality in not making an issue of civic mismanagement and blatant incompetence when they were either promising the voter the moon, or accusing their political adversaries of corruption, nepotism, or worse?
Sure Mr Narendra Modi and Mr Rahul Gandhi have issued condolence messages, the chief minister of Gujarat has announced relief of Rs 400,000 to the kin of each of the dead and an inquiry has been ordered. Yet does money ever compensate for the loss of a young life ~ just ask the families of the victims of the Uphaar tragedy in the Capital 22 years back, come June 13 the victims will be “remembered” but are memories good enough?
For since then there have been countless other “killer” infernos across the country, and few lessons learnt. Just about six months earlier there had been a similar mishap ~ to call them accidents would be dangerously inaccurate ~ in Surat, the tragic story had a re-run on Friday when the election results had prompted some to declare that achche din had dawned. That Surat is in the home state of Mr Modi is irrelevant ~tomorrow there could (would?) be more charred or asphyxiated corpses recovered from another town.
And after the shedding of a few crocodile tears it would be back to business as usual ~ that might even be hailed as resilience, and the spirit of the people. It is true that something as mundane as firefighting capacities does not figure in a parliamentary poll, but good governance does. And that starts from the top, trickles down.
In his first essay, Mr Modi did touch upon such “basics” when he initiated projects for toilets in homes, putting an end to smoking chullahs etc. But nobody even promises improved civic services in an increasingly urbanised India. Sadly, because even a Metro railway is less of a vote-catcher than any of the several nasty slogans that have just threatened to burst the ear-drums.
Yet it would be unfair to blame the politicians alone: the people will vote for someone promising to erect a massive statue of an “icon”, or raise an elaborate temple, rather than ensure that building regulations are enforced on the plea these are areas for state and local governments to be concerned with.
A sophisticated jetfighter does impress, not a turn-table ladder that facilitate firemen rescuing people from high-rise buildings ~ who cares if when trying to escape the flames some folk jump to their death? These, too, are the basics the new government will have to address.