Thursday, June 27, 2013

'Tug-Of-War Of Partisan Politics On Rescue Operations'

By M H Ahssan / Hyderabad

Just when you thought our netas couldn’t plumb the depths of politics any further, they go right ahead and surprise us. Images of Andhra Pradesh Congress MP Hanumantha Rao and Telugu Desam MP Ramesh Rathod jostling with each other and virtually trading blows at the airport in Dehradun point to the extent to which the optics of the rescue effort in Uttarakhand are being cynically used in the tug-of-war of partisan politics.
 The bodies of those who died in the flash floods haven’t yet been fully retrieved  - despite the valorous and selfless efforts of the armed forces personnel – and there are still thousands of people stranded in the high Himalayas. And, yet, for  provincial-minded politicians, even such a tragedy is a mere backstory for the macabre promotion of their parties – and their own political careers.

As with all political narratives, there are plenty of tu-tu-main-main charges flying about to account for the indecorous pushing and shoving that went on.  But from a marshalling of the many accounts, it appears that the disgraceful incident had its roots in the excessive eagerness of both parties to take sole credit for the evacuation to safety of the pilgrims from Andhra Pradesh from Uttarakhand.

Evidently, the chartered flight that the Congress had organised to fly survivors from Dehradun to Hyderabad, which was to have taken off on Wednesday morning, was delayed owing to inclement weather. Over the past few days, the Telugu Desam has been lining up its  own chartered flights, among other relief efforts, to ferry people home. The passengers who had been scheduled to take the Congress-sponsored flight were evidently tired of waiting around, and so “jumped ship” to the TDP flight when it appeared that the latter would take off first.

Congress MP Hanumantha Rao, who had been counting on the photo-opportunity of his arriving in Hyderabad with a planeload of survivors, evidently felt the ground slipping beneath his feet. According to media accounts quoting TDP leaders, the bus that was carrying passengers to the airport was first interjected by Congress workers. And even until the last minute, the TDP leaders claim, Hanumantha Rao was looking to entice the survivors from the TDP-chartered flight with cash offerings.

Hanumantha Rao, however, claims that it was the TDP that provocatively tore up the boarding passes of the passengers who were scheduled for the Congress-chartered flight in order to get them to board the TDP flight. The TDP’s sponsorship of relief efforts, he claims, was motivated by the political consideration of wanting to make the Congress government in Andhra Pradesh seem ineffectual in its response to the tragedy.

The political tug-of-war among parties contrasts sharply with the selfless manner in which the armed forces personnel have been going about their rescue mission, often putting their own lives at risk, as the crash of the rescue helicopter on Tuesday showed. Appearing on a television talk show late on Wednesday, Air Chief Marshal Fali H Major wondered whether television channels ought to be beaming such images of such indecorous conduct by politicians when a dedicated search-and-rescue operation by the armed forces was still under way.

But, in fact, there’s a case to be made that such despicable behavior ought in fact to be given fully media play, if only to name and shame the politicians, however incapable of shame they may be.

Nor is this the only instance of “photo-op politics” injecting itself into the rescue and relief efforts in Uttarakhand. The political and media flutter over the report over Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi‘s Rambo-esque rescue mission – whose provenance is still in doubt – proves that even the stench of dead bodies from the Uttarakhand tragedy doesn’t deter parties from playing their cynical power games.

Much the same photo-op politics was at play with the ceremonial flag-off of relief trucks for the Uttarakhand survivors by Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. According to this  report (jump to the 31 minute timestamp), the relief trucks are now parked in Rishikesh, with no instruction on where they ought to be going. The truckers, who were paid Rs 2,000 each, say they’ve run out of fuel and will begin selling the relief material if they are not given any more money or told where to go.

In this case, at least, it’s the end of the road for cynical photo-op politics…

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