When Saturday evening T.V channels brought the news that Narendra Modi’s visit to Uttrakhand to oversee relief operations had kicked off a major political storm, I decided to go and check for myself whether this was indeed a cheap publicity gimmick as alleged by the Congress and its minions or a serious response to a humongous tragedy. During the course of my study of post 2002 Gujarat, I had heard glowing accounts of how Narendra Modi had handled the reconstruction of towns and villages affected by the Bhuj earthquake. Even during the Surat floods, Modi combined efficient short term relief with long term measures to avert such tragedies. All that was in past tense. I wanted to see if the Disaster Management system was still in place.
Those who disparagingly called Modi a Rambo or a publicity hungry politician have no clue what they are dealing with. He is an institution builder par excellence and a statesman who believes in using state power to serve people and knows how to do it. This is proved by the fact that:
Gujarat today has a fighting fit bureaucracy because it was enabled to develop expertise, team spirit and deliver results under the most adverse circumstances. It is also empowered and encouraged to take on-the-spot decisions rather than wait to seek “permission” from “higher ups”.
The Gujarat Disaster Management Authority (GDMA) has become a thoroughly professional institution capable of responding to natural or manmade disasters. It has a 24x7 monitoring system and well publicized helpline numbers well known to Gujaratis—both in the country and abroad.
Modi has succeeded in conveying to the citizens of Gujarat that the Government is always there to serve them. That is why the first response of Gujaratis anywhere in the world is to contact the CM’s office if they are caught in a calamity. He himself acts with lightning speed, anticipating problems and finding advance solutions rather than be overwhelmed by them.
Modi’s deep personal knowledge of every region of India and contacts with an amazing range of people and institutions in almost every part of India, thanks to the years he spent as a pracharak are a big asset in responding creatively to sudden challenges.
For example, Modi arrived in Delhi late 17th night for a meeting with the Planning Commission on 18th when news of cloudburst and landslides was telecast on TV. He held an emergency meeting to take stock of the situation since he knew that thousands of Gujaratis are likely to be among the Chardham pilgrims. Due to his close personal knowledge of Uttrakhand he anticipated it had the makings of a major tragedy. Right away, a camp office was opened at Gujarat Bhavan and the Resident Commissioner’s team in Delhi were made responsible for coordinating with Gujarati pilgrims.
On 18th morning, Modi called Dr Pranav Pandya of the All World Gayatri Parivar to provide space and infrastructure in his Shanti Kunj campus for the relief centre proposed to be set up by the Gujarat Government. He chose this campus because of his close knowledge of and rapport with this Gandhian institution which can house and feed thousands of people at short notice. It has a 2000 strong community of dedicated swayam sevaks on the campus plus 3000 odd students of the Dev Sanskriti University who are also infused with the seva bhav that is the hallmark of Gayatri Pariwar. The 90 acre campus also has a well-run hospital. This institution for social service and national reconstruction was set up by Acharya Ram Sharma who took his inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi whose message of service is infused in every aspect of Gayatri Pariwar.
Modi’s personal rapport with Dr Pandya dates back to his pracharak days. Gayatri Pariwar had also joined hands with Gujarat Government during the reconstruction work in earthquake affected villages in Bhuj. Therefore, this was a tried and tested institution for Modi. Even on its own it was also providing food, blankets and other necessities to stranded pilgrims and local population through the air force helicopters.
One phone call to Dr Pandya on the 18th and by the same evening a set of computers with internet connection, along with telephone lines, T.V and all other paraphernalia required for Gujarat Government’s Relief Operation set up. Therefore, when a team of Gujarat Government IAS, IPS and IFS officers led by Principal Secretary and Relief Commissioner P.K Parmar came, they could get going within minutes of reaching Shanti Kunj. Their team included two officers who hail from Uttarakhand with close knowledge of the terrain to guide both the stranded pilgrims as well as rescue teams on the safest possible routes to take. Assistant Director General of Police Mr Bisht who hails from Uttarakhand went straight to Gupta Kashi from where the rescue operations are being launched. He has trekked to Kedarnath, Gaurikund and other places to track down trapped pilgrims. A team of seven doctors trained in handling such emergencies, led by an orthopaedic surgeon, not only put in place an efficient first aid service but were also attending to those severely injured. Here again the approach was pro-active. They went to other relief camps and railway stations to attend to non-Gujarati pilgrims as well.
The mandate of Team Gujarat in Uttarakhand is: take good care of rescued pilgrims as they arrive. But once they are recovered, send them home at the earliest possible in the most comfortable manner. Don’t worry about expenditure or numbers.This is the standard approach of Gujarat government: 'Plan for all, not a set number. Be prepared to handle as many as need the services rather than turn away people for lack of resources.'
As always, officers on the ground have been empowered to take on the spot decisions, to decide how many luxury buses or taxis they need, how many pilgrims need to be sent by air and what kind of air craft to order. It is not as if the rich are being sent by air and the poor by buses. The decision is need based.
Thus when Modi landed in Dehradun, Team Gujarat was already in control. Far from attacking the state government, he offered all possible help to CM Bahuguna. In addition, he synergized resources, energized BJP workers to get going, not just for immediate relief but also long term reconstruction work. All his officers were provided phone numbers of BJP functionaries of all 190 blocks in Uttrakhand and vice versa. As usual he worked 20 hours a day to guide and streamline the operations. The spirited enthusiasm of Gujarat govt staff and BJP workers had to be seen to be believed.
I saw senior IAS officers working 24x7 alongside very junior staff in one single room as a close knit team.
Similar help counters have been set up at the railway stations and airports in Gujarat to help people reach their homes safely.
Congress Party is understandably upset because the UPA government is not only scam ridden but also rudderless. Congress run state governments have proved either lackluster or disastrous as in Uttarakhand. Congress party machinery is in disarray, Congress Sewa Dal workers are nowhere in sight, Rahul’s Youth Brigade is clueless even in routine situations, leave alone know how to face a crisis like the Uttarakhand deluge.
Phobic responses to Modi and hate campaigns against him for doing the right thing make the Congress Party look ridiculous in its vulnerability and heightens its image of incompetence and venality.
An edited version of this article was published in The Economic Times on 26th June, 2013(http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/opinion/comments-analysis/narendra-modi-led-rescue-efforts-in-uttarakhand-are-not-publicity-gimmicks/articleshow/20772558.cms?curpg=2)