The lessons are there for all to see. Yet, all that political parties seem to be interested in is point-scoring and shedding crocodile tears, writes seema mustafa
There they all are, denuding forests, giving in to the land mafia, selling our natural resources and then flying in after nature protests in calamity with their crocodile tears, and their “Rambo” acts. The Congress and the BJP are at it again, trying to capitalise on human tragedy with an eye fixed firmly on the elections ahead.
The only institutions that have worked in disaster-hit Uttarakhand are the Indian military and paramilitary, who are doing an amazing job in rescuing thousands of persons against all odds. No officer is looking for glory, even as he directs his men to do the impossible in the flood-hit mountains. They work as a team, responsible, compassionate and yet professional. The politicians, rushing in now for their pebble’s worth, should actually sit back and try and learn from the men in uniform, and instead of trying to score brownie points practice some selflessness for a change.
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi went flying in to the usual drum beats of a compliant media, and the BJP and RSS. His was a larger than life stopover, where he thundered against the Congress, offered to build the Kedarnath temple (note, not the homes of the thousands who have been left with nothing) and left with his propaganda machine claiming that he had ‘rescued’ 15,000 Gujaratis at the drop of a hat. The media did not stop to ask exactly how this was done, just propagated a claim that is so amazingly foolish that it is actually not worth commenting on. For Modi, this was an entry on to the national stage, a disaster underscoring his Prime Ministerial ambitions. But being cleverer than others, he ensured that a few officials were left behind in Uttarakhand representing the Gujarat government even as he went on speaking for the ‘nation’ and how it will stand together at this time of crisis.
The absence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did add to the Modi election cart as it were. Congress scion Rahul Gandhi was also missing in action, although Congress President Sonia Gandhi tried to compensate, albeit late, in her own mismanaged way. The aerial survey was clearly not enough, and finally the party decided to organise some Central relief in the form of some Congress leaders, who have been sent to counter BJP propaganda, and take the lead in some relief work. Local media is already carrying stories of how these VIP&’s, including Modi of course, have been hindering rescue and relief operations, demanding protocol and security in the midst of the chaos.
Mrs Sonia Gandhi would do so well to pause and introspect for a few seconds at least, and instead of worrying about the BJP stealing a march in the mountains, realise the importance of elected ~ instead of nominated ~ leaders. Sycophancy is taking its toll now, as the ‘nominated’ chief minister of Uttarakhand, Mr Vijay Bahugana, a politician owing his position entirely to Mrs Gandhi&’s gratis, is a cipher, having no experience or knowledge or ability to cope with normal governance, let alone a disaster of this magnitude. Instead of listening to the voices of her partymen in the state, Mrs Gandhi preferred to bring in Mr Bahugana despite protests from the state Congress party; people are now paying a price for his incompetency. The irony of it is that Mr Bahugana&’s rival, Mr Harish Rawat, far more popular in the state, has now been sent from the Central government as part of the team supervising relief operations.
Instead of making political hay out of the terrible disaster, perhaps Mrs Sonia Gandhi and Mr Narendra Modi would do well to sit down together and see how those violating the environment to this scale can be held accountable, and how further damage can be stopped. It is no secret in Uttarakhand that the forest denuders and the land mafia have close ties to both the Congress and the BJP, and have used this proximity to plunder the Himalayas of Uttarakhand at will. Forests have been uprooted, and several-storeyed hotels and buildings have sprung up all over the river belt, leading to environmental conditions where the rains turn into floods that nature then cannot fight or stop. Not just environmentalists, but also the government’s own Comptroller and Auditor General had warned against this in detailed reports that politicians are too compromised to read and implement.  Everyone in Uttarakhand is involved in the big money game, where land is now the huge resource, as it is sold and plundered by these terrible men in their terrible greed.
The blame game between the Congress and the BJP is only to protect their skins, as they are part of, or actually leading the nexus of corrupt exploitation. The political class is only worried about losing the votes, not about taking systemic steps to ensure that lessons are learnt from the disaster and corrective strategies are put in place as soon as the relief operations are over. The last will include compensation and rehabilitation of course, and action against the land mafia and the corrupt administration, but more than that, giant steps are needed to ensure that the equilibrium of nature is restored. The lesson from this has to be an understanding that human lives are closely linked to ‘environment’ that is not some elite fancy, as one has heard politicians say, and that the habitat has to be restored to mitigate natural disasters of the kind that has left thousands dead, injured, and homeless in Uttarakhand.
India, thanks to this mafia-politician-bureaucrat nexus is fast becoming an Uttarakhand in the making, as all natural resources from land to coal to forests to minerals are being exploited by the ruthless lot, any and everywhere. The depletion is fast and unchecked, as land is acquired by the corrupt political governments for the land and mining mafias, while the poor are left with little or no means of sustenance. Their survival is at stake, but the governments continue to plunder the land with no thought of the morrow. Uttarakhand should have served as a warning, but given the war of words and point-scoring by the BJP and the Congress, it does seem that no lessons have been learnt. After the fury of the storm abates, it will be business as usual for the political class and their followers. The people, as always, will not matter.
The writer is Consulting Editor, The Statesman