It ill behoves a person of Modi’s stature, says Maken

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s claim — through his well-oiled PR machinery — that he had, Rambo-like, rescued 15,000 Gujarati pilgrims from the flood-ravaged Uttarakhand has riled the Congress.

“It doesn't suit a leader of [Mr.] Modi’s stature to claim that he will come like a Rambo and fly 15,000 pilgrims of his State out of Uttarakhand,” Congress leader Ajay Maken said.

Indeed, given that rescue and relief operations are being conducted by the armed forces and other disaster management agencies, Mr. Modi has done no more than other Chief Ministers such as Maharashtra’s Prithviraj Chavan or Tamil Nadu’s Jayalalithaa, who have sent officials to Dehradun to help those evacuated with money and other resources to return home.

But unlike Mr. Chavan or Ms. Jayalalithaa who did not publicise their efforts, or make it difficult for the beleaguered Uttarakhand government by arriving in Dehradun and making a well-publicised aerial survey, Mr. Modi did just that, ignoring Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde’s request that Chief Ministers not visit the hill State as it would hamper the rescue operations.

Earlier in the week, Congress spokesperson Raj Babbar, when asked to comment on why Gujarat had given only Rs. 2 crore, despite being, according to Mr. Modi, India’s most prosperous State, he merely said he found it odd that a Hindutva votary had chosen to be niggardly when it came to helping out the land of the char dham: four key Hindu religious sites. Maharashtra, Delhi and Haryana have given Rs. 10 crore each and Uttar Pradesh Rs. 25 crore for the relief efforts.

Mr. Modi clearly wants to make political capital at a moment when all eyes are “on the extraordinary discipline, courage and valour” — as Mr. Maken phrased it — of the armed forces engaged in rescue operations under the most difficult circumstances.

On Sunday evening, 80,000 persons were brought to safety by air and land. At a press conference in the evening, addressed by the heads of the various agencies, there were even some heartwarming stories such as the one of a young woman army doctor and her colleagues walking 25 km to a remote village to help in the birth of a baby, and of helicopters making difficult landings on a treacherous rock face.

For the Congress, with a slew of Assembly elections due at the year-end and the general election less than 12 months away, the devastation in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh is a sensitive matter not just because the party is in power in both: it is a pan-Indian tragedy as the vast majority of tourists and pilgrims who were stranded come from different parts of the country.

In most countries, at the time of a national disaster, political parties would come together to focus on helping out; recriminations and name calling would come later. But on Sunday, addressing a rally at Pathankot, Mr. Modi lashed out at the government and undermined the efforts of the armed forces, Congress functionaries noted. “At this juncture …, the whole country should be united, and political parties should concentrate only on relief activity rather than on one-upmanship,” Mr. Maken said.

Mr. Modi’s “utterances, particularly those referring to national security, should have been avoided … This could demotivate our armed forces at a moment when they are single-mindedly pursuing relief operations.”

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