Like countless tragedies before it, Uttarakhand has been reduced to a spectacle by competitive showing off verging on the absurd. The flash floods that brought death and devastation to the hill State were still expending their fury when attention got diverted from the shock and horror of the main event to a string of political shows organised on the sidelines. Unfortunately, the theatrics this time has gone beyond the usual one-upmanship to interference in official relief and rescue efforts. Uttarakhand’s terrain and weather are regarded as treacherous and have proved forbidding even for trained Air Force and Army personnel; the crash last week of an IAF helicopter underscores the risks involved in undertaking an authorised search mission in the region, not to speak of misadventures by unguided missiles. But politicians intent on heroism and adventure will hardly be deterred by the prospect of danger. One such daredevil was Congress MLA from Madhya Pradesh, Sanjay Pathak, who claimed to have rescued many stranded pilgrims by flying into Uttarakhand in his own helicopter. Other politicians made a beeline for Dehradun’s airport, adding to its already considerable problems by pressing into service their own fleet of aircraft and stampeding to be the first to organise return passage for the rescued pilgrims. A Congress MP from Andhra Pradesh and two Telugu Desam Party MPs fought bitterly over who should get the first right to ferry back pilgrims from their State.

Nothing captures the black humour in all this as much as the drama around Narendra Modi’s much-quoted derring-do in allegedly pulling off the rescue of 15,000 Gujarati pilgrims. The story, published in a national daily and since denied, had it that the Gujarat Chief Minister flew into the State right in the middle of the raging flash floods and flew out with his contingent. As bravery goes, this was hard to beat, and sure enough the ‘heroics’ got the online world buzzing with excitement. There was much exclaiming over a single determined man being able to do what the Indian Army could not. Though the story has been denied, several versions of it are now in circulation, minus the implausible figure of 15,000 but nonetheless full of dazzling details on how the rescue was organised. There has also been some angst over the Uttarakhand government’s refusal to accept from Mr. Modi the offer of two dozen helicopters, besides assistance to rebuild the Kedarnath temple. It can be nobody’s case that a Chief Minister or an individual politician should not offer help in a national crisis. But there is a time and place for it. Excessive help and excessive publicity for the help can be counter-productive.

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