Unbelievable ! I am not only referring to the Tsunami and its consequent devastation but to the totally inept, politically headstrong, misguided (I am running out of adjectives here) policy of the Indian government to refuse foreign aid for dealing with the aftermath of the Tsunami in coastal India.
Here’s what we wanted to tell the world :” Look at us Ma no hands. We don’t need no help—-we are a superpower now . Not only don’t we need any help we will be giving out millions of rupees to Maldives, Sri Lanka and other small dominions in our sphere of influence—that’s how tough we are. Remember that when you expand the permanent members of the Security Council……….”
Our brave (quixotic?) stance made the headlines in the Western media which incidentally is all that the Indian government really cared for. ( Of course this will have no effect on our membership at the Security Council or on our perceived position in the brotherhood of nations—-but that is a different issue altogether.) But at what cost has the GOI attained its objective? Read on.
Scene 1: A coastal village in Tamil Nadu a day or two after the tsunami. A victim tells Rediff that the district administration gave 4 sacks of rice (yes 4) to feed 20,000 displaced people ! And then it bribed some of the affected to lie to the visiting chief minister of the state as to the efficiency of the district administration.
Scene 2: In his blog India Uncut (also on Rediff) Amit Varma quotes Dr Narasimhan, one of the numerous volunteers at the scene of devastation who gives us the real picture of our government’s might.
All that the government has been doing is lining the streets outside with bleaching powder. They are not interested in coming here, they left this to the NGOs……………….Mani Shankar Aiyar, India’s petroleum minister, had announced on TV four days ago that such equipment was at the top of his wishlist of aid. Then why did it not materialise? Could the government not mobilise its resources even that much?………..
What we need now,” he (Dr Narasimhan) says, “is kerosene. We need to burn bodies as we come along them on this stretch, before they decompose further. And we have no kerosene.
“We’ve been calling aid agencies and so on asking for fuel to burn the bodies with,” he continues, “but we got none. We managed to file some cans of kerosene lying around some of the devastated houses, but there’s no more of even that?”
“But can’t the government give you kerosene?” I (Amit Varma) ask astonished.
“The government does nothing,” he says. “I thought differently till I came here, but now I’ve seen it for myself. Everything is left to the junior IAS officers, who are in meetings all day. Ministers come, and all they want to know is how many people are dead. They don’t care about relief work at all. In an unprecedented situation you need an unprecedented response. But that has not happened.”
Dr Narsimhan gets back to his work, and I look up, where a helicopter moves languidly across the sky. “That’s the fifth one today,” says a lady who is part of the doctor’s team.
“They come and ‘survey’ the area, which is so pointless, because you cannot actually see the dead bodies from here amid this debris. It is just a show, to reassure themselves that they’re on top of things. The army officers who come here, they refuse to even touch the bodies. They just hang around aimlessly.”
Very illuminating. And damning. Army officers do not touch dead bodies of Indians—and yet troop off to other countries to offer assistance. As Dr Narasimhan says: ” it’s all a show” with an eye to tell the world “Look we got everything under control.” When the real situation is exactly the opposite. So the logical question: why aren’t we hearing tales of government ineptitude in the Press ? Another volunteer (who herself is a journalist) throws light on this (from the same above article):
So why haven’t the press written about this, I ask her. “The press,” she snorts. “The journalists from the Hindu are all flying around with dignitaries. That is the kind of reporting they do.”
It’s time we faced the truth: we are not equipped to deal with this catastrophe on our own. A hundred call centers, a shopping mall, a Barista coffee shop do not constitute “development”— we are still very much a developing nation and do not have the infrastructure to deal with catastrophes on this scale. We are neither rich enough as a country to absorb quietly the shock of the financial consequences nor do we have the administrative muscle to do anything (except of course hover round in copters). Someone who has lost everything and everyone to the ocean does not really care for a permanent seat in the Security Council—-all he wants is relief. The least the government can do is to not prevent anyone from helping them. And even that the wise mandarins at Delhi have not managed to accomplish.
There are very few developed countries in the world which when faced with catastrophe on this scale could have performed effective disaster-recovery without external help. In that sense there would have been no shame as a nation in asking for help. Whether the world press thinks we are a regional superpower or a leaking hot-air balloon is irrelevant: the truth is that the government has let down its own people at a time when they needed the country the most. There can be no bigger shame than that.