Many thousands have lost their lives and thousands still remain untraced in the disaster that hit Uttarakhand. This time, at least the authorities are coming around to the view that they had grievously erred in ignoring the warning signals which were put out by official agencies and non-governmental organisations. The manner in which the relief operations were made, the government—both at the Centre and in the state—must realise that they need to revamp the entire ‘development model’, which they wrongly believe is in the interests of the people. The people definitely want development, but they do not want death and destruction along with it.
The state administration was caught like a sitting duck. The Himalayan tsunami exposed the bankruptcy of our development and disaster management policies. “Things fell apart, and the centre did not hold, mere anarchy was let loose on the world.” Even the magnitude of the tragedy could not be gauged in the first two days. Many deaths could have been avoided if timely action had been taken. The CM and his Cabinet even admitted that they had failed the people.
Perhaps, the only silver lining in the whole tragedy has been the way in which our armed forces have conducted the successful rescue operations. The IAF and the ITBF have rendered yeoman service, even at the cost of their own precious lives. Foreign watchers, who have closely observed the manner in which the IAF flew rescue sorties in inclement conditions, are all awe struck. Nowhere else in the world would the pilots have been allowed to operate in such difficult condition. The pilots were aware that they were risking their lives, but they did their duty as they would have done in a battle zone, and even paid the price. The IAF has a mixed bag of choppers, most of which are outdated and difficult to fly, yet our bravehearts threw caution to the winds and sacrificed their lives to rescue those stranded. This was certainly the biggest rescue operation in history. The National Disaster Management Authority has struggled to put together a comprehensive response; they did fairly good work but have learnt lessons for the future.
The Indian Prime Minister should take lessons from US President, who speaks to the people even if there is a school shooting. It is shocking that the PM has not addressed the nation even after the extent of the tragedy unfolded day by day. He could have reached out to the thousands of relatives, who were looking out for their missing kin. Instead of petty politicking, the leaders should have come on a common platform cutting across party lines to face the calamity. The nation was shamed by the extent of the disaster tourism indulged in by our leaders. It seemed that politicians of every hue and colour wanted a slice of this tragic cake. Blame gaming and one-upmanship were the norms. Even the intentions of the well-meaning few were questioned. What Narendra Modi did should have been done by the other bigwigs, who descended on the state. Putting him under the microscope and making ill meaning of his genuine efforts only harmed the cause.
The task of rebuilding will be herculean. In the coming months, Uttarakhand will need a lot of help from the rest of India. Instead of politicising the calamity, the Centre and the state governments should work together to set up rehabilitation and counselling centres, and assist in bringing normalcy back to the lives of the affected.
I hope that India and Indians will rise above crass matters and prove that it was a national tragedy (even though the government was shy to declare this), which has touched the psyche of the people. The nationwide efforts to send help and succour is an indicator of the large heartedness of our countrymen, even street ragpickers sent contributions. Our politicians should take lessons from them.