Kerala, After The Flood: As locals cast aside societal divisions to help out, party workers line up to grab credit

Editor's note: Described as one of the worst since 1924 by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, the rains in Kerala have left over 350 dead and rendered thousands of people homeless. According to the latest tally, 80,000 have been rescued so far. Over 1,500 relief camps have been set up across the state that currently house at least 2,23,139 people. In a multi-part series, Firstpost will attempt to analyse the short-term and long-term impact of these unprecedented floods on the lives of the people, economy of the state, and the environment.

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Around 500 fishermen from Thiruvananthapuram district rejected the reward announced for them by the Kerala government for saving hundreds of people stranded in flood-ravaged areas of Pathanamthitta district, saying what they did was service. Raju Thomas, who led the team with 130 boats, said that they considered the feeling of gratitude writ large in the face of the rescued men and women as the biggest reward they have got for their work. He said several fishermen had also refused to accept individual rewards offered to them by the rescued people and their relatives.

Like the fisherfolk, thousands of locals rushed to the spots of devastation long before government rescue teams arrived and saved the lives of large numbers of people marooned in the floods, regardless of religion, caste and economic status. Similar unity was also seen in the relief camps, where hundreds of thousands of ordinary people joined hands to provide succour to their suffering brethren casting aside all boundaries of religion, community and politics.

A file image of the Kerala floods. PTI

A file image of the Kerala floods. PTI

After stories of several such acts of heartwarming solidarity started doing the rounds on social media, political workers in several places jumped on the bandwagon trying to take credit for the self-less service rendered by people out of true concern for their fellow human beings. While a majority of the workers of all parties genuinely worked in tandem with ordinary people serving the victims without any banners (and others under the banner of various voluntary agencies), some tried to derive political capital from the calamity that displaced more than 1.5 million people by trying to take charge of relief camps and claim credit for the relief materials provided by others.

The attempt by a group of ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) workers to put their party flags on a vehicle transporting the relief materials led to tension at a relief camp at Njarackkal in Ernakulam district. When the police intervened in the issue, the party's area secretary at Nayarambalam put a sack containing relief materials on the head of a police official. The Varappuzha Police has registered a case against the party leader, Ullas. under non-bailable sections of the IPC in this connection.

In another incident, the North Paravur Police censured a local CPI leader for creating a ruckus at a relief camp at St German's LP School in Kochi's Kacherippady. He has been barred from entering the relief camp premises after camp organisers accused him of attempting to pilfer relief materials.

Attempts by the ruling party workers to hijack the camps have also been reported from several places. CPM workers threatened a village official at Kalpetta for preventing them from taking over control of a relief camp at Vythiri in Wayanad district. Party workers allegedly also tried to take over a camp at Kalamaserry in Ernkulam district after evicting a group of students who managed the camp and another at Pandhalam in Pathanamthitta district managed by a group of Muslim organisations.

There have been several such incidents involving not only the workers of the CPM, but also other parties. The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party also tried to take credit for the relief work by putting up their party flags and banners in the relief camps. After the fierce competition by political workers to take political mileage from the relief workers triggered tensions in many camps, the state government banned party flags and banners near relief camps. The government has also stopped party workers from entering the camps and interacting with the people housed there.

The state police has posted additional forces in camps to implement the directives. The police has also set up help desks in all the camps equipped with radio communication devices. A woman civil police officer has been posted in all help desks to help women camped there.

Meanwhile, party workers took their claims to social media by sharing images showing them aiding affected people in relief camps. Several parties and their affiliates also launched fundraising campaigns on social media. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was trolled extensively after the images it shared on its official Facebook handle were found to be from an old flood. The social media handle shared pictures of a flood that battered Kozhikode and Kannur in 2012, claiming that the individuals in the images were Seva Bharati volunteers working among victims of the current flood.

One of the images shared as part of the campaign showed a TV channel reporter with many people standing in the background including a few wearing khakhi shorts — the old RSS uniform. The image was widely circulated by many on social media.

The RSS sought to wriggle out of the embarrassment saying that the team from Kerala shared both the photos of 2012 and 2018 in gratitude towards the reporter who was among the few reporters who covered the relief activities in 2012 and in 2018.

"To cover such relief activities and putting themselves at risk is appreciable and hence we thought it fit to share. Both (sets of) the photographs have been shared in this album," the RSS clarification said. The statement claimed that that the extensive relief activities by swayamsevaks and Seva Bharati are there to be seen by people who are involved in the relief activities and the victims themselves. Instead of spreading false canards, everyone should pitch in to save those in distress.

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However, a person from the Sangh Parivar ruffled a lot of feathers by circulating an audio clip in the social media saying that most of the people who were impacted by the flood are rich and they do not need any handouts. The person, who has been identified as Suresh Kochattil from Hyderabad, also appealed to the people not to contribute to the chief minister’s relief fund and instead put the money in the hands of Seva Bharathi, which was doing exemplary work in providing relief to the victims.

There were also attempts from several quarters to cast communal aspersions on various agencies engaged in the relief activities. Officials at a relief camp at St Albert's College in Ernakulam attempted to assume control of the camp following a slander campaign that they were working on communal lines. However, innumerable heartwarming instances of people joining hands to help their brethren casting away their political, caste, communal and religious differences have drowned out this hate-mongering and mischief for the time being.


Updated Date: Aug 26, 2018 15:54 PM

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