Kerala, After The Flood: Petty politics trumps rehabilitation and rebuilding work as parties scuffle for cheap glory
In the initial days after the flood, which claimed not less than 400 lives and turned several lakhs homeless, Kerala had set an example to the nation with all joining hands forgetting the political leniencies to give a hand to those affected.
In Kerala, two weeks after the biggest floods in a century hit the state, petty politics is slowly taking the centre stage in public discussions over relief and rescue issues. After the initial shock that forced all political parties to cross party lines and work as a single unit, politicians are now hurrying to collect brownie points to claim number one position in the rankings of ‘who did it best’. The race has begun and the signs are visible everywhere including the tiny battle boxes of Malayalam television channels which did a commendable job in reporting the tragedy from the ground.
As reporters are gradually running out of fresh stories from the relief camps, television anchors are struggling to find new angles and what better than a hot, ugly debate on one-upmanship and likely misuse of flood relief funds? As I was interacting with some volunteers who have operated in relief camps and watching the TV discussions the sense I get is that, even in relief camps, an intense but subtle war is brewing among the CPM/CPI, the Congress party and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the leadership position in relief operations and the emerging strategies to pin down rivals by finding faults in opposite camps.
The Congress party and certain other factions have made the case for a separate account to collect the flood relief fund other than the chief minister’s distress relief fund (CMDRF), alleging that during the Okhi disaster, the money collected in CMDRF wasn’t properly utilised by the state. This irked the LDF-government prompting Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to call a press conference and present the fund disbursal details on Tuesday. Vijayan said a total of Rs 218 crore was collected during the Okhi disaster, of which nearly Rs 117 crore has been spent already while commitments have been made for another Rs 85 crore. The CPM has fielded its senior leaders like Anathalavattom Anandan to make counterattack on those being suspicious about CMDRF.
“Aren’t you acting like poisonous snakes (like the ones seen in houses post the flood, he said) to discourage even the well-wishers who would want to contribute to the CMDRF by levelling baseless allegations?” asked Anandan participating in a television debate on Tuesday night in one of the local channels. The Congress representative, PM Suresh Babu, hit back saying what’s wrong in questioning possibilities while BJP’s B Gopalakrishnan defended RSS-backed Seva Bharati collecting flood relief fund independently while other political parties are contributing to CMDRF saying it is using the money collected thus prudently and every penny is accountable. The blame game and mud battle will intensify going ahead as the nation approaches the 2019 Parliament polls.
Political drama doesn’t end just there. As they say, someone’s sleep can cause others to lose some. That’s exactly what happened when Union minister Alphons Kannanthanam spent a night at a relief camp in Changanassery last Tuesday night and followed it up with a Facebook post announcing to the world that he did so where he was seen lying on a mattress on the floor. The minister said the idea was to express solidarity to the flood victims by spending a night in the camps with them. Logically, there was a social media outrage, where many termed Kannanthanam’s act as a self-promotion exercise in the time of a tragedy. The local BJP unit was unhappy even more with his remark on what India’s ideal stance should be on the much-debated Rs 700 crore UAE aid for the flood-battered state. Kannanthanam said the state needed the money and if there is any technical hurdle, the Central government should take steps to remove that considering it as ‘one-time exception’. This statement came when the Central government, of which he is a part of, wasn’t in favour of receiving foreign aid for Kerala. Party’s mouthpiece, Janmabhoomi heavily criticised Kannnamthanam’s statements and warned him not oversmart’.
In the initial days after the flood, which claimed not less than 400 lives and turned several lakhs homeless, Kerala had set an example to the nation with all joining hands forgetting the political leniencies to give a hand to the several hundreds who lost most of their life’s savings in the flood waters. The water is yet to recede in many low lying areas such as Kuttanad in Alleppey. With most of the crops washed away and storage houses damaged, the state’s agricultural sector is in perils; about 34,732 kilometres of road and 218 bridges — big and small — have been destroyed. It will take at least a year-and-a-half and no less than Rs 5,815 crore to restore this infrastructure for public use. According to Vijayan, total economic losses have exceeded Rs 20,000 crore and this is not yet the final estimate. The government is yet to draw up a long-term plan to restore the damaged infrastructure in the state, make sure the homeless get shelter and the crisis-ridden farmers get back to normalcy. Unless politicians rise above political priorities and work in coordination, there is no hope left for God’s own country to recover from the disaster in several years to come.
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