A bend in the river….
So now we have an infuriated Goddess as an alibi. That conveniently lets off all those scoundrels responsible for the deaths of so many pilgrims in Uttarakhand. Poor Goddess. Yes, she was displaced from her abode recently. Summarily removed from her temple and relocated to another higher level. Or so the gullible locals have been told. The real story is likely to be dramatically different. The Goddess was clearly in the way. It wasn’t her safety alone that was at stake, it was also the future of an ambitious, lucrative mega hydel power project. The ancient shrine of Dhari Devi had to be uprooted to facilitate those plans. God knows what the pious pujari was told by lobbyists. But move her, he did. The exact date of that shifting remains hazy but in retrospect, those who took that decision must be nervous indeed. That’s India. We believe in stuff like this.Equally,when all else fails,we conveniently blame the Gods. After all, the displeased Goddess cannot go to court , nor file an FIR, or even take the RTI route. She can merely sulk in silence and do her worst. We have seen the terrible consequences of that! Her wrath has devastated a tiny but hugely strategic State ( China breathes down its neck), killed countless innocents, ravaged the region and destroyed virtually everything that lay in the path of those furious flood waters. With the rivers on a rampage, India once again bowed to the will of the Gods. That said, it is time to assess with ruthless honesty ( if we have the guts), what actually went so horribly wrong in Uttarakhand. Is it that tough?Let’s start with basic questions : here ,we are talking about a historic pilgrimage centre that has existed for centuries. Millions of pilgrims have trekked up those treacherous paths over the years. The numbers have only grown. And yet, successive governments have done nothing to address the perils faced by believers? The inconvenience of the faithful who risk life and limb to make the hazardous journey year after year? And hello! Is the Indian Monsoon an unknown phenomenon?Do we not know the magnitude of the havoc those rains wreak across India season after season? So why are we behaving like we were dealing with something entirely alien and unpredictable? Even in the past, those nasty landslides have claimed many lives ( who can forget dancer Protima Bedi’s tragic death while on a pilgrimage?). Despite all of this being a given, our response to the calamity has been abysmal, dismal and sickeningly callous. Thank God for our valiant men in uniform! One shudders to think what might have happened had we left it to our politicians to handle the crisis on their own.
Well… we do know what some of them did after disaster struck. Vijay Bahuguna,the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, reluctantly cut short his European junket and came back to utter the usual platitudes. Allegedly, he was compelled to give up his Moulin Rouge moments when orders from Dilli sternly summoned him - report for duty, or else! Ditto for Birthday Baba Rahul Gandhi who was kicking up his heels in London, and enjoying the services of his favourite barber there. That’s when Mama Mia advised him to forget his quiff for a bit, and come right back ( maybe it was his barber’s day off for he took his time ). This was after Mama Mia’s aerial sortie and view from the clouds, as she surveyed the devastation from the plush aircraft, along with a stone faced Manmohan Singh. Our P.M. repeated the same old lines from the same stale script (“Our hearts go out to the families of those…..”), making one wonder whether he has a set of clichéd speeches handy for every crisis - natural disasters/ terror attacks/ epidemics/ train crashes/ riots/ miscellaneous- developments- of- a- scary- kind. And how hard that poor heart of his must be working to keep ‘going out’ to victims time and time again!
Khair. What a despairing nation witnessed was apathy and ineptitude on an epic level, when it came to leadership. Netas of every hue shamelessly exploited the tragedy, converting rescue operations into nauseating photo ops. We saw scuffles between politicians racing to get there first on aircrafts they weren’t paying for. And we saw the unfortunate tussle between Rambo and Dumbo, as Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi tried hard to win dubious badges of honour for ‘doing something’ during the crisis.While politicians will be politicians and vie for glory even during a tragedy by milking any and every opportunity, the apparent indifference of corporate India was even more distressing.Whatever became of those highly flaunted private jets and choppers they jauntily pose with for glossies?Where were our flashy Billionaires when we needed them? Here was the beleaguered Indian Army coping with an unprecedented situation. Here were fearless IAF pilots giving up their lives to save others (along with nameless police personnel and compassionate citizens). Each one striving day and night to do whatever was humanly possible to rescue stranded pilgrims and locate bodies of the dead.Commandant Nitya Nand Gupta, heading the NDRF, sacrificed his own life, along with his crack team of 20 rescuers when the Mi – 17 helicopter crashed. Yes, India will honour and remember their extraordinary valour. Is that enough?
The most shocking allegation doing the rounds involves the anti-environmentalists position taken by the State’s CM, Vijay Bahuguna, who has strenuously lobbied to clear ambitious hydel projects at the cost of massive deforestation. He went so far as to accuse the MoEF of ‘blocking’ development in his State. Critics point out that there was much more at stake in those mega deals than just the hydro power potential Bahuguna refers to. Let’s leave that for now and begin on a fresh note with a comprehensive development plan for what is a very important pilgrimage site for Hindus. What about providing roads and supporting infrastructure to facilitate easy access in future? What about reviewing some of those lop-sided development plans, which have also permitted the haphazard construction of shopping malls and hotels, carved out of those very mountains that finally protested by caving in?
The Goddess has every right to be furious. Dhari Devi ( a manifestation of Kali), legendary protector of four dhams in the region, will not easily forgive the promoters of the 300 MW Alaknanda Hydel Project that allegedly wanted her out of the way before starting work. We are a superstitious and sentimental people. The curse of an enraged Goddess can (and has) moved mountains. Rivers, too. Let’s not anger Dhari Devi any further. Why not ask her for forgiveness and bring her home ?