Operation Maitri has perhaps redefined the way India responded to a natural disaster, whether within the country or in its neighbourhood. India and Nepal have always enjoyed friendly relations, and are socially, culturally and historically tied to each other. What has changed things now is the alacrity and the scale with which Modi government reacted to a devastating natural tragedy in India’s neighbour.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s quick response has earned him thanks from Nepali authorities and possibly of the people there as well. Modi after all, rose in stature as a leader and as an able administrator when he successfully changed the face of Bhuj, Anjar and other areas devastated by 2001 earthquake in Gujarat. Over the years, he seems to have bettered his instinctive response to such situations.
India’s prompt response may also have been guided by strategic reasons apart from humanitarian ones.
“If we had not risen to the occasion and stood by the neighbour then China could have found it an occasion to penetrate in the Nepalese hinterland. Historically we have so much in common with Nepal and we did exactly what we ought to have done under the circumstances”, a senior BJP MP said.
There is a conscious attempt by his party and senior ministers in the government to attribute all the good work that the official agencies are doing to the Prime Minister. Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s statement in Parliament was most revealing in this regard.
“I have no hesitation in admitting this in the House that I was not aware about this till I reached home (after attending inauguration function of National Intelligence Academy where Modi was also present). But the prime minister had already received the information. The prime minister told me that he had called a meeting at 3 pm. A big tragedy has happened and you would have received the information, Honestly, I would admit that the promptness I should have shown as home minister and the information I should have got were not there,” Singh said.
Modi has been holding review meetings almost on a daily basis with top functionaries including finance minister Arun Jaitley, home minister Rajnath Singh, defence minister Manohar Parrikar, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth, Principal Secretary Nripendra Misra, and Additional Principal Secretary to PM PK Mishra, and senior officials from IMD, and NDRF. In the last meeting, Modi also made a broad assessment of the long-term rehabilitation and reconstruction work that would be required, especially in Nepal, and was briefed on the first steps that were being taken. He also suggested that ex-servicemen could be approached to help in the co-ordination effort.
The government is keen that its rescue and relief efforts do not go unnoticed. While transmission of information about rescue and relief measures does give a instil confidence among people stranded in affected areas, it also gives a sense to the world at large that the Indian government was responding adequately to the need of the hour. This time around Modi government seems to be particularly sensitive on this count.
Top bureaucrats including Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, Home Secretary LC Goyal, Defence Secretary RK Mathur, Member Secretary, NDMA, RK Jain and Director General IMD Dr LS Rathore have been tasked to hold media briefings every evening and give updates on relief work as well as the current situation. It is perhaps for the first time since the Kargil war when the government is organising daily media briefings by such high level officials.
A day before the second half of the budget session began, Modi while speaking at a workshop of BJP MPs, rued that the government had failed to effectively communicate its rescue work in Yemen, from where hundreds of Indians had been safely evacuated. Modi is now putting a system in place that should begin working as soon as there’s a natural or man made calamity, a BJP leader said.
Last year Modi has shown promptness after flash floods struck Jammu and Kashmir or when there was a threat of a flash flood in Bihar due to a possible breach in barrage on river Kosi in Nepal. Earlier, as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate he was involved in rescue and relief during the floods in Uttrakhand and landed in the state to launch a parallel relief and rescue operation.
Among the affected regions of India, Bihar has suffered maximum damage, both in terms of life and property. As per the official figures 57 persons, out of 72 deaths in India, have died in the state. With four NDRF teams already in Bihar and ex-gratia payment increased, both the centre and state are acting as a team. But with assembly elections is the state only six months away, the politics over it will soon intensify.
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