Stow the cynicism! PM Modi did the right thing by going to Chennai

We have become a harsher people. I have just given a talk on India’s political realities on the last 18 months and one irate young man stood up during the Q and A session, and asked with a certain abrasiveness why Prime Minister Narendra Modi had to fly to Chennai in the middle of the crisis and create a distraction from the rescue and aid operations.

"What is he going to take stock of that he cannot see on TV?", was the raging zinger.

Not much in that obvious sense, these VIP trips don’t translate into major insight just because the leader of the nation looks out of an aircraft port and has a sombre expression on his face.

 Stow the cynicism! PM Modi did the right thing by going to Chennai

File image of Narendra Modi. Reuters

But, the present day trend of exploiting tragedy by politicians, by not taking in some of the slack in responsibility and turning adversity into photo-ops, is largely responsible for the cynicism displayed by this young man.

That said, a leader has to be seen to be leading, and his presence does generate some comfort that someone cares. Not going indicts the leader as completely uncaring. Ergo, the PM is caught between a rock and a hard place and he won’t get a 100 percent mark for going or staying away.

Consequently, you should go with your conscience and Modi has gone with his. Anyone who has had the misfortune of seeing human misery up front and personal, covered the caprice of fate, viewed war from upfront, been at the site of an air-crash or stood by the grief, misery and deep loss of real people on the ground, comes away touched in a fashion that TV, Skype and news reports can never project. The raw emotion slaps you in the face.

That impact on the mind can and must turn into positive support and I would like to believe that the Centre will up the rescue ops dramatically.

You cannot but be shaken by Nature’s capability for devastation.

Yes, it costs the exchequer a little money and there is a security problem and I don’t quite know how sanitised the visit is, but if Modi mingles with the affected or sails in a homemade boat across a street that has turned into a river, or holds the hands of the bereaved, he will not come away unmoved. It will hit him hard and through him, the bureaucracy could heave itself into action that much more tangibly.

But let's return for a moment, to the cynicism. As an NRI myself and one who is often puzzled by the ambivalence of the relationship with the mother country, I am a little surprised that very little has been done by those living abroad to send cash or goods to Chennai. One of the major reasons for this is the absence of any support groups and associations that have largely failed to step up. When you think of the fact that in every country in the world there are these splinter associations that take their pomposity very seriously, no organised drive is visible.

That’s a lot of mea culpa from 32 million NRIs.

So, to answer the young man’s smart and cheeky question, yes the PM has done the right thing. Let him see it first-hand and if he does get his feet dirty and meets the people and we, the media, not seek in it any gratuitous self-propulsion (what self-publicity is there when a city has been rocked?) someone, many someones, may find solace in the fact that help is at hand, and that they are not marooned.

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Updated Date: Dec 04, 2015 11:14:20 IST