| Even a massive tragedy as the recent floods which need focused and collective efforts for recovery, relief and rehabilitation could not escape the ugly onslaught of petty politicking and politicisation. Perhaps, they come as a natural appendage to everything in Kashmir, unfortunately so.
The first signs of politicking began when the disaster was still in the making and before the Jhelumdrowned half the Srinagar city and rains washed away villages and houses across Jammu and Kashmir in a massive way. Union home minister Rajnath Singh used the a visit on the rainiest day to not only offer assurances to the government and the people of the state of central assistance and support in view of the calamity but to balance it out with his patent slogans of Article 370 et al. Two days before that, when reports of floods playing havoc with life and property including tragedies like a busload of people getting swept away were being received with great shock, Rajnath Singh chose to talk about identifying land in Kashmir for return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits, as if the issue that has been lingering for decades could not wait for the emergency situation emerging in Jammu and Kashmir to get over.
The second sign of politicking came with the arrival of prime minister Narendra Modi, who perhaps in his disbelief of his union home minister’s assessment regarding floods, decided to take yet another chopper ride to Jammu and Kashmir instead of monitoring things more effectively from New Delhi and getting rescue teams and resources operational. He did promise Rs 1000 crores aide, which he could have done even while sitting in Delhi, and along with that he also tried to score brownie points by offering aide to Pakistan. In a tit for tat, Nawaz Sharief offered aide to Jammu and Kashmir on the Indian side of the Line of Control. The offers did not translate into anything beyond and were not meant to, in the first place.
Rescue troops were not airlifted into Kashmir for the first two days that Kashmir’s vast areas were turned into floating structures, immersed fully or partially like submarines into the muddy waters of the floods. Army’s headquarters, itself, was badly caught in the rising waters and its personnel became one of the most affected victims in some areas. But before the army could get its act together, brave young Kashmiri volunteers jumped into the scene with boats, rafts and anything sailable and began their rescue operations. Their lack of resources and numbers were no match for the more expert and professional exercise that army started with its fleet of choppers and 370 boats. (By the way, not to forget the multiple mysteries and politics of the 300 boats chief minister Omar Abdullah claimed to have with him a day before Srinagar sank but forgot to use them; the prime minister promising more help but forgetting to send in more boats). 30,000 troops were pressed into service. In a place that sees a very highly disproportionate concentration of troops and where the tragedy had assumed epic proportions, the number may have been too less. So, was it a political decision or one that was marked by sheer poor perception? One doesn’t know but in days to come the Kashmir tragedy became a mud-slinging battle between the ugly jargons of "mobs stone pelting the very hands that were rescuing them" and "army resorting to pick and choose in rescue operations".
It is time to call spade a spade and give the Army its due. No doubt, the army personnel played a stellar role in rescue operations, despite its meagre resources in face of the enormity of the tragedy; nothing exceptional about that as Army is the only agency that has the capacity and ability to do so in all disaster situations in the country. It performed well during the earthquake 2005 and Leh floods of 2012 and the role has been widely appreciated both in and outside the state, not because the situation was devoid of some incidents of hostility from the angry and frustrated trapped victims but because there was no twisted media projection. If the Centre had used its pragmatism better and allowed Army to, without of course the added burden of chopper flown ‘friendlies’ intervening with their childish and damaging discourse, things by now would have been far better in Kashmir in terms of rescue and relief; perhaps even better if international agencies with more expertise had been allowed to come and work in Kashmir on rescue, recovery and rehabilitation.
The politics played over the tragedy evinced itself in the abject no to the international agencies and the abrupt withdrawal of the army, leaving the Valley in the throes of still trapped people in inundated areas facing the threat of serious epidemics as the government slipped into the mode of typical complacency from which it never recovered, chipping in more with its politicking and less with the much needed action to ameliorate the plight of the vast population impacted by the floods.
Politics continues to dictate the course of relief operations with the state government’s functioning marked by not just inefficiency but also its divisiveness resulting in inability to streamline relief measures, inflatedand pocketing of relief, rotting of relief and tactical distribution of the same. To whitewash all such lacunae, the only show of efficiency is exercised in the name of the conduct of NGOs and volunteeers through ill-conceived measures from making no objection certificates mandatory to self certification, from imposing toll tax on relief material to allowing goons to harass truck drivers bringing relief material through the highway. Most opposition parties have, thankfully, considerably played a responsible role so far and the separatists are still oscillating mostly between shock and doing their own bit.
Another unwanted comedy circus comes from Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi party offering Rs 6 crores aid and chief minister Omar Abdullah refusing to meet its delegation. Why should Kejriwal in the first place prefer to offer aid to a government headed by a man, who was part of his list of most corrupt politicians just four months or so ago, and not any credible voluntary organisation?
But with Jammu and Kashmir scheduled to go to polls before the end of this year, politicking remains the predominant ingredient whether the state is headed for the polls or not and imposition of Governor’s rule may be a possibility in view of the continuing crisis. This eventuality may suit the BJP, which would use the occasion to both unleash its divisive politics in Jammu region and perhaps get the flood relief and rehabilitation action in full gear in Kashmir and badly affected areas of Jammu only once the state is almost under Centre’s direct control. This suitability may have something to do with its present hesitation and half hearted approach of the Centre; its compassion so far revealing itself only inof promises and lip sympathy, its agenda evincing itself in the form of no to international aid agencies and minimal use of Army only for a very short while. The Kashmiris may continue to reel in misery of deprivation and serious epidemic threats because the crisis suits the ruling party at the Centre.
All this politicking is being played as the entire population reels under direct and indirect consequences of the flood, its spill over effect in the shape of socio-economic impact would in the long run drown even the so far safer plains of Jammu. What’s more – this barbarism is wrapped in sophistry of deceit and many guises. This is one time one wishes Jammu and Kashmir was not the ticking political time bomb it has always been.