With Vijay Bahuguna’s Government choosing to be a mute spectator even as the Armed Forces and paramilitary and other state leaders were involved in rescue and relief operations, such was the confusion in Uttarakhand that Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde was dispatched from Delhi to personally oversee the activities there for the first few days.
Apparently, much to the surprise of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Bahuguna came down to Delhi with them after the two did an aerial survey and stayed on for the night.
Neither required the Chief Minister to escort them back to the national capital.
Bahuguna’s frequent absence from the state in crisis situation had to be defended by the Central Government, which claimed he was coming to Delhi for coordination of relief and rescue work. In contrast to Bahuguna, Union Water Resource Minister Harish Rawat stayed put in Uttarakhand, visiting remote areas to personally help in the rescue operations.
It cannot be denied though that the state government is divided into two camps, one close to Bahuguna and the others loyal to Rawat and that has contributed to the lack of coordination.
Uttarakhand ministers belonging to the Rawat camp skipped the Cabinet meeting called by the Chief Minister. Nonetheless, once the rescue operations are over, Bahuguna will have to face some hard questions on why his government did not heed the warnings issued by the Meteorological department on June 13.
It is said that the first few hours of a natural calamity is always crucial in limiting damage to human lives and that quick response can avert the scale of devastation.
But in Uttarakhand, there was inordinate delay in the rescue operations as the Army was called in only after a Union Minister raised an alarm and called up Union Defence Minister A K Antony for his intervention. The Chief Minister failed to take note of the unprecedented rainfall in the first Cabinet meeting after the cloudburst. Though right now the focus is on saving the last of the stranded locals and pilgrims, once the issue of rehabilitation of the devastated state is taken care of, “the issue of the state’s political leadership will also have to be looked into,” a senior Congress leader said.
The fear in the Congress is that the party’s image has taken a massive drubbing despite the initiative shown by the Central Government in rushing all possible aid to Uttarakhand.
“It is because of the mismanagement of the state machinery. That is why, a Chief Minister (Narendra Modi) and former Chief Minister (Chandrababu Naidu) of other states try interfere in the relief operations,” sources in the party said, without hiding the dismay.
The political goof-ups apart, Bahuguna is also being blamed for the 124 trucks carrying relief material from the AICC not reaching their destination.
The trucks, flagged off by Sonia Gandhi, are stranded in Rishikesh with the drivers threatening to sell off the relief material --food, medicine, etc -- unless they are rescued.
Meanwhile, the CM was not to be found in Dehra Dun, but in Delhi. Little mercy that he did not take off to Switzerland as planned earlier. The overseas trip was cancelled only after Bahuguna was told to stay in his flood state, but by then the damage was done.