Minister’s selfie draws ire

The video was taken by a member of the minister’s entourage in Kolhapur.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

With thousands still stranded in Kolhapur and Sangli districts, a selfie video of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and State Water Resources Minister Girish Mahajan in a seemingly frivolous mood after a survey of flood-hit areas has drawn sharp condemnations from the Opposition.

In the video, shot by a member of Mr. Mahajan’s entourage, the minister is seen waving his hand and smiling during his stock-taking of Kolhapur’s flood situation. After the clip went viral, local leaders such as Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) State president Jayant Patil and Raju Shetti, chief of the Swabhimani Paksha, came down on Mr. Mahajan’s ‘flood tourism’.

“It is shameful that in a critical situation like this, ministers of the BJP government indulge in such levity. Instead of focusing on how to rescue people from backwater villages, they are taking token tours of this region,” Mr. Shetti told The Hindu from Kolhapur’s Shirol taluka. He said the boat in which the minister was touring would be better served to rescue people.

Mr. Shetti, a former two-time MP of Hatkanangale in Kolhapur, said the situation is becoming critical and that the government and the district administrations have no clue how to cope with it. “Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had no qualms about not visiting Sangli, but satisfied himself with aerial surveys. It is sad that people had no elected representatives to be with them, as in the case of the Sangli boat tragedy on Thursday. It was the villagers who had found the bodies which were lying in the mud. Till midnight, no last rites could be performed owing to administrative and government apathy.”

Dubbing Mr. Mahajan’s video an ‘unfortunate example’ of government apathy, Mr. Patil, who hails from Islampur in Sangli, said such gestures proved that the government was not seriously focusing on relief efforts.

“Even after six days of the deluge, the Guardian Ministers of Kolhapur and Sangli have not visited the people personally…the flood-affected public are tired of this indifference shown towards them by their elected representatives,” he said, adding he has been futilely urging the administration for the last 48 hours to rescue more than 8,000 people stuck in Sangalwadi of Sangli.

“I am continuously receiving calls from people in my area who have been stranded without food, essential supplies and clean drinking water for more than 72 hours. But no steps are being taken by the government or the administration to bring relief. Instead, ministers are roaming about in high spirits, in shameful contrast to the tears of the flood-hit citizens,” Mr. Patil said.

Senior Congressman and former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said Mr. Mahajan’s levity was in poor taste at such a critical time. “Mr. Fadnavis ought to have dispatched a more knowledgeable and capable Cabinet Minister instead.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Mahajan’s office claimed that the selfie video was recorded by one of the rescuers with a feeling of ‘pride’ and ‘respect’ towards the minister as he was personally involved in rescue work in the area. “It is tragic that the Opposition is criticising the video without even trying to understand the reason behind filming it. The Opposition is censuring the minister at a time when he is personally involved in the rescue work by entering the flooded area,” a statement issued by his office said.

Senior BJP leaders, including Mr. Mahajan, Chandrakant Patil and Subhash Deshmukh, Guardian Ministers of Kolhapur and Sangli respectively, finally made their way to Kolhapur on Thursday.

As they entered Sangli on Friday, Mr. Mahajan and Mr. Deshmukh were surrounded by locals, who demanded to know the reason behind their absence for nearly five days since the deluge, and the government’s alleged tardiness in dealing with the crisis.

“The people’s anger is perfectly understandable and justified…regrettably, this is a natural calamity which is unprecedented in its magnitude and far more serious than the 2005 deluge…one cannot blame the administration or the authorities. Even the public had no idea that water levels would rise so high,” Mr. Mahajan said.

He said as the Karnataka government had already begun discharge from Almatti dam at the rate of 4.5 lakh cusecs, the plight of the affected in Sangli would improve.

Hitting out at opposition leaders over his selfie in Kolhapur, Mr. Mahajan said those who had not the courage to even enter the water ought not to point fingers at him.

“This criticism is entirely unwarranted. After my stock-taking in Kolhapur, I made an arduous journey and managed to reach places in Sangli district, which are completely cut off by the flood. In fact, no other elected representative or opposition leader had reached these places,” he said in Sangliwadi.

Other than the selfie, video clips showing Mr. Mahajan swimming alongside NDRF and Army jawans and rescuing people went viral.

(With inputs from Alok Deshpande)

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Printable version | Oct 27, 2020 9:15:24 AM |

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