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Strict Disaster Code Needed: When a Calamity Strikes India

India needs a strict disaster code, like it is prior to elections, especially applicable to opportunistic politicians and maybe even cricketers who are usually more loyal to the BCCI, than the country, writes Siddharth Srivastava.

The floods in Uttarakhand have destroyed lives, devastated homes and local populations for generations ahead. Our armed forces have once again stood out for their valor, gallantry and sacrifice like they did during the Kargil war, or later, the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, both orchestrated from Pakistan.

The integrity and rapid response of our jawans and officers in saving so many distressed has been exemplary. It is heartening to see that there is at least one institution in our country that is sustained by taxpayers’ money that has effectively served their real paymasters. The Army and the Air Force have more than earned their salary for generations to come.

Indian cricketers dedicated tweets to the flood victims after their fabulous victory in England. The very rich BCCI announced big cash awards for the players. Something does not sound right here. The victims could do with more than tweets.

India’s political class, as expected, shamed the country once again by trying to convert a calamity into crass personal publicity on TV channels that specialize in putting down the same set of people they like to feature the most — politicians.

The only exception is Times Now, where others are featured but only Arnab Goswami speaks. The politics of converting a tragedy into a photo-op is just an extension of our charlatan leaders’ selling themselves as messiahs of the poor while appealing to caste and religious sentiments as a short cut to power. India needs a strict disaster code, like it is prior to elections, especially applicable to opportunistic politicians and maybe even cricketers who are usually more loyal to the BCCI than the country. For one, all official helicopters and other resources available to the state should be solely used for rescue missions during a tragedy.

Does it serve any purpose that (Prime Minister) Sonia Gandhi accompanied by Manmohan Singh for convenience (feel free to correct me if I have got this wrong) makes an aerial survey of a calamity? Is the naked human eye competent enough to make any assessment from so high up where only eagles sustain? Imagine yourself stranded in the middle of nowhere.

Are you supposed to feel happy to spot the de facto Prime Minister flying overhead in air conditioned comfort, secure, rested and well-fed, to assess whether you are going to live, die, starve or drown?  Wouldn’t you rather the helicopter take you back to your loved ones?

If the leaders are so inclined, there are satellite pictures, official briefings, TV and citizen reports that can offer a much better view. To make their concern well noticed, they could invite TV channels to show them viewing the pictures of the tragedy.

Secondly, the disaster code needs to specify how the second most powerful person in India should react to a calamity, just as the most powerful person should not be allowed near a helicopter. Crown prince Rahul Gandhi, (the deputy Prime Minister of India) (again, correct me if I am wrong here) was not reachable even as the enormity of the floods unfolded.

That was the cell phone response, and he was not stuck in a lift. This is akin to the Army or Air Force chiefs being unavailable to commanders in Uttarakhand due to a round of golf even as all leave for jawans is cancelled. Only M.S. Dhoni can get away by refusing to speak about match-fixing as he is only answerable to the BCCI, that is answerable to nobody but its own self-serving bosses or so they believe.

Apparently, the Gandhi scion was in Spain on holiday with pals. No problem with that if you are not the de facto deputy PM, ensuring with your mom that a big chunk of India’s tax money is spent on harebrained anti-poverty schemes. And claim in numerous public speeches that India needs youth leaders to take the country forward. Should the supposed youth icon of India be scuba diving when thousands have died and many more rendered homeless?

Of course, competitive catastrophe politics quickly took over when Gandhi’s bête noire Narendra Modi landed in Uttarakhand. Gandhi jetted back to flag off with mummy relief material in trucks that waited till he arrived. I read somewhere the vehicles got lost en route. The drivers sold their load midway for some quick money. This brings me to the third code. Do not allow potential PMs, including future de facto one’s near a disaster site, the scene of real, and not symbolic actions that only serve to distract and detract ongoing operations. The true “Rambo” belongs to the defense forces involved in rescue operations.

For a man who believes in efficacy of technology for communication, Modi could have kept tabs on his team from a distance while still giving Rahul the jitters. What if other potential PMs, Third Front aspirants and sundries try to do a Modi?

It would be farcical. Mamata would take a short bike ride on a broken road that goes nowhere for the media to record; Mayawati would build a statue of herself in Rishikesh to mark her historic visit, which Akhilesh and Mulayam Singh Yadav would then try and pull down; Jayalalitha would offer free idlis to everybody except Kamal Hassan; Raj Thackeray would blame Biharis for the floods; Nitish Kumar would back out so as not to be seen doing what Modi has already done, in keeping with his model of alternate recovery for Bihar and rest of the country.

On his very popular blog, Amitabh Bachchan (pardon me, he is not in the category of potential PM, but I feel like taking a pot shot) would express his deep anguish at the loss of life while also uploading pictures of a real Ferrari (not a toy) gifted to his darling granddaughter for saying dada for the first time. This would add to all the cars the sweet little girl, God bless her, already owns.

Siddharth Srivastava is India correspondent for Siliconeer. He lives in New Delhi.


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EDITORIAL: The Patriotic Saint
POLITICS: India's Food Security Sham
PHILANTHROPY: Sevathon 2013
SOCIETY: Strict Disaster Code
TRIBUTE: A Gentleman Villain, Pran
RECIPE: Shish Kebab
TRAVEL: Scenic Pacific Coast
AUTO REVIEW: 2013 Ford Fusion
FICTION: Stolen Moments
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