Last Friday’s Patna stampede that has already claimed 33 lives, mostly of women and children, while they were exiting after Dussehra celebrations at Gandhi Maidan was an avoidable tragedy for which the state government is squarely to blame. An accusing finger is being pointed at the district police for keeping all but one of the four exits shut after the celebrations and fireworks which led to the stampede. There was inadequate street lighting on the south-east side of the ground. As a consequence, several people fell on each other in the darkness as the crowd ran in panic. Whatever the cause of the stampede, the government failed in its responsibility to ensure the safe exit of the people. The incident has shown yet again the callousness of the state administration which apparently failed to learn any lessons from two tragic incidents— a similar stampede at Ganga Ghat during Chhath in 2012 and serial bomb blasts at the same Gandhi Maidan last year when Narendra Modi addressed a rally during his campaign in the run-up to the general elections.
People are raising serious questions about the capability of the state government to handle crowds. The latest Patna tragedy will make further dent in former Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s image of good governance. His experiment to rule Bihar by proxy may prove costly for him in the next elections. Anti-incumbency was running high in the state until a newly-forged alliance between the JD(U), the RJD and the Congress halted the BJP juggernaut. It would be no mean task for the Jitan Ram Manjhi government to stem the tide and prevent a further slide in the fortunes of the non-BJP combine.
Police claimed that a rumour about electric supply line falling on the crowd near the western exit gate spread like wildfire, triggering panic among people who ran for cover. Final corroboration will come after the ongoing official inquiry is completed but there is no denying that the state administration failed miserably in anticipating the tragedy and then dealing with it speedily and efficiently.