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Putting a spin on the Uttarakhand tragedy

Last updated on: June 26, 2013 15:23 IST

Politicians have used the Himalayan tragedy to score political brownie points and the media has been a willing participant, says Mahesh Vijapurkar.

Politics is the art of the possible, and spin doctoring trying to make the perception look like a reality. This time, amid the unfolding dimensions of a Himalayan tragedy that has enveloped Uttarakhand, politics and PR are out at their best -- or should we say, worst? -- making the even the cynical wring their hands.

Politics requires a thick skin and a glib tongue and a sensitivity limited to the politicians personal gain passed off as either party’s or national interest. Or else, one would never ever have seen inflated bills and under-execution even in relief efforts, using inferior stuff. That part is yet to arrive in Uttarakhand.

It is in this perspective that one has to see the visits of Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi to Uttarakhand. The first, if one goes by the explanations spouted by Renuka Chowdhury, Congress spokesperson, their party’s number two went there as a citizen, not any VIP with a security detail, et al. Can one buy that?

The Indian Express showed it was just a lot of spiel. His plans were announced an hour prior to leaving Delhi, the 8th Battalion officers’ mess had to be vacated to accommodate him and his security guards. The place was occupied by teams involving rescue of victims. And she tried to say it was a five-minute stopover due to inclement weather.

Just like, Narendra Modi, with his claims to have evacuated 15,000 people in a day -- the time frame is not clear, nor the sources of that input in The Times of India -- was. He may or may not have taken out as many or much fewer people out of a tight spot but triggered an avalanche of criticism, taking the country’s eye off the ball which was relief.

They had no business to be there. Nor the other chief ministers -- Prithiviraj Chavan, Ashok Gehlot, Bhoopinder Hooda, and N Rangaswamy, respectively of Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Haryana, and Pondicherry -- who did aerial surveys. If it was to assess the devastating cloud burst’s impact, they could have counted on counterpart Vijay Bahuguna’s appraisals; he knows the region and the needs best.

The poor man must be at his wit’s end though as of now, the Indian Army, the Air Force, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, for the real task of rehabilitation would be something he would have to deal with on his own. As of now he wants only offers of help only after he tells the world what Uttarakhand needed but that would be later. Why harass him now by visits? It is not as if he needed condolence visits.

Nor can the self-praising media be spared for they too have done their worst to add to the screeches on their nightly shows, which can be best described as shearing a piglet; one finds only a lot of squealing and very little wool. The media, especially news television, took rides on official helicopters and ranted about how victims were yet to be reached, forgetting they were baggage when they could have flown rescuers.

They could call the key policy makers and the honchos involved in drafting and running the national disaster management plans to the studios or taking the cameras to their preferred homes -- mind, not offices -- and asked a few sharp questions for the poor arrangements in place. They prefer politicians who are set against one another and then accused of politicising a disaster.

The politicians accuse the media for overplaying it, the media insisting that the politicians act up when they see a camera and are in the business of only photo opportunities (photo-ops). People like us could well ask: how come, even in the remote regions, where their few news crews have been spread thin, manage to be wherever Rahul is around and Modi is getting into a car?

Everyone is trying to benefit both ways. The tragedy is the ruling and opposition parties are blaming each other using the culpable media. Feel like being in Alice’s wonderland? I do, but how long does one indulge the three to let them play their games as if bitter people like us don’t exist?

Mahesh Vijapurkar is a commentator who takes the common man’s point of view seriously.

Complete Coverage: Uttarakhand Disaster 2013

Mahesh Vijapurkar