Lessons From Two Floods


By B.G. Verghese

There are lessons to be learnt from the floods that have devastated J&K. This is a national disasterbut after rendering relief and rehabilitation the object must not be to restore but to build anew and better wherever opportunity offers. This will not be an easy task but must be imaginatively attempted.Those affected are understandably angry over delayed rescue and relief with the loss of communications and connectivity aggravating anxieties. But the unprecedented magnitude of the storm and floods could not have been anticipated and the State Government, Army, Air Force and National Disaster Management Force actedpromptly and effectively in the circumstances with full Central backing.

Unfortunately, as always, the issue has been politicised for electoral gain. There are theories galore of what should or might have been done. These armchair critics are removed from ground realities. The separatists have joined the act and Air Force helicopters flying dangerous missions and winching up stranded citizens have been targeted by stone-pelters.

Pakistan has been badly affected and Mr Modi did well to offer assistance to disaster victims across the LOC. Nawaz Sharif reciprocated with a similar offer to aid J&K. These gestures need to be capitalised on the basis of the understanding that common distress can make people think of common futures that could help avert or mitigate cross border disasters.

One area of cooperation could be on issues of monitoring and countering climate change which has increasingly caused aberrant weather. This apart, it is noteworthy that the main damage occurred in the Chenab and Jhelum valleys over which India has limited regulatory control. It is in this regard that the Indus Treaty calls for a relook by optimising storages and other measures by invoking Article VII, titled “Future Cooperation”. Whereas India is now limited to no more than 1.70 million acre feet of storage on the Chenab system it currently has none but only some run-of-the-river pondage. But the upper Chenab, which lies entirely within India, has a storage capacity four or five times larger than currently permitted that could both hold back flood waters and also generate far more electricity and irrigation produced by such joint storage works on a mutually beneficial cost-benefit sharing basis.

Hopefully, circumstances will drive both sides to sensible cooperation of this kind which would in turn help resolve the Kashmir problem in the bargain. The BJP-Parivarin-house Fool’s Chorus that is ready to chant nonsense at the drop of a hat, was loud in denouncing Omar Abdullah’s plea that the door for talks with Pakistan should be kept open after calling off the Foreign Secretary level talks. He was denounced as a traitor. But SushmaSwaraj said a week later that there are only commas and no full-stop in Indo-Pakistan relations.

Unfortunately the MEA, and the key player there, the Foreign Secretary, has been cut out of the loop in dealing with major aspects of foreign policy. She was not consulted but only informed by PMO to break off the Foreign Secretary-level talks. Thereafter it was the NSA, AjitDoval that was sent to Beijing last week to discuss the preliminaries and agenda for the forthcoming summit level talks between President Xi and Mr Modi in Delhi. This is a recipe for disaster.

Even as the BJP-Parivar continues its vitriolic and divisive campaign of minority-baiting and “love jihad”, Delhi had the privilege of hearing a very moving address of “Truth-Telling in a Time of War”, under the auspices of the RamnathGoenka Foundation, by Marianna Pearl, widow of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street journalist, who was brutally killed by the Taliban in Karachi some months after 9/11.

She said her husband’s and her own credo was that “beyond the news there are individuals, beyond the politics is a human society, and beyond our difference there is common ground. That common ground is what terrorists are trying to destroy”. She said terrorists operate by creating a narrative, using labels extensively. “Wars and conflict can’t live without a narrative, a justification that breeds on frustration, ignorance and fear”. Journalists must deal with this by creating a counter-narrative, “resisting the appeal of sensationalism and the temptation to over-simplify complex matters or please those in power”. She said she stood for values and pleaded that journalists “think beyond labels”.

This is precisely what a significant section of the Indian media has not done. It has kow-towed to power and preferment, engaged in sensationalism and empty “breaking news”, and pandered to the desire for applause rather than search for the truth. The media has fallen for the Parivar narrative and borrowed its tawdry labels rather than stand up for the true values of this noble profession. “Love-jihad”! The Parivar does not know the meaning of love, brought up as they are on hate. But why should journalists abandon the common ground of humanity?

The flood of hate unleashed by the Parivar is more insidious. How can we deal with it when the Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, has the gall to say that he does not know the meaning of love jihad!

Yogi Adityanath has at last got a notice fromthe Election Commission for violating the model code of conduct in his election campaign in U.P. He should really have been had upon criminal charges of incitement to offence. Amit Shah, on bail on a charge of murder, has been dodging CBI court appearances for months on grounds of being “busy with political work”. This time he has been told he must appear in person or suffer consequences. The Supreme Court should take note of the way protected political offenders play artful dodger and are allowed to get away with murder. Mr Modi wants the courts to function and deliver speedy justice. Does he too put “political work” above Justice?

To the voices mourning the loss of “the benign” face of Hinduism is that of FaliNariman. This facet of faith has been edged out by hate speech and none at the top is stepping in to stop the tirade. Mr Modi certainly does not seem to care a fig.

India will survive. It is too large and its civilizational roots of tolerance and accommodation are far too deep to be permanently scarred by Hindutva hate-mongers.



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