On Saturday, Kerala observed Onam, perhaps the dampest and gloomiest ever in the history of the state. This year, instead of bringing happiness and prosperity, the traditional post-harvest festival of Malayalis has opened the floodgates of sorrow, submerging the southern state in a sea of misery, claiming over 370 lives and hundreds of thousands rendered homeless. The deluge that devastated the state has still left more than 13.5 lakh in temporary shelters and rescue homes, mostly in the five districts of Ernakulam, Aalappuzha, Thrissur, Kottayam and Pathanamthitta in central Kerala, which bore the brunt of the incessant rains and the floods. While an uncertain future stares at most of those in the camps, thousands outside are busy trying to restore the remains of their homes, whatever is left. While the state machinery and the people of the state with support from all over the country stood up to the unexpected fury of nature, the wounds it has inflicted on the lives of millions will take a long time to heal. As the state undertakes a mammoth rehabilitation work hitherto unheard of in the country, the government is being unnecessarily dragged into unwanted controversies, concerning within and outside the state. The Opposition in the state, mainly Congress, which stood shoulder to shoulder by the side the Left Front government in all its efforts to keep the state afloat, has now come out saying the enormity of the floods could have been contained had the government done its homework properly. The other emerging Opposition in the state, BJP is finding fault with the government in soliciting flood relief from outside, mainly the Muslim Gulf countries. The CPM-led Left Front government on its part has put the blame on the neighbouring Tamil Nadu for worsening the flood situation in the state by opening the shutters of the Mullaperiyar dam under its jurisdiction, without providing any prior information to the state authorities.
“It is a fact that we received 41.41% more rain this time in Kerala. But that was not the reason why the deluge worsened. Opening of 44 dams without any prior notice was the real reason for such a massive flood,” Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala told a news conference, the day the rain gods relented. “While nine dams were opened together in river Pampa, eleven dams in Idukki and Ernakulam districts and six in the Chalakkudy river were opened. The government had no idea about the area that would get flooded,” Chennithala added. However Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the same evening that Chennithala had contradicted his own Facebook posts that clearly suggested people were alerted on time. Indeed, Chennithala’s post gave the impression that everything was in order and there was nothing to worry about. But the question still remains whether those living in interior parts of the area too knew about the impending danger. On hindsight it looks that only those in the towns were aware of the government designs and the machinery did fail to warn others in time. So instead of brushing aside all criticism as “anti-Vijayan” and “anti-CPM”, a constant refrain by government spokesmen on TV discussions, it would be wise for the government to look into the aspects raised by the Opposition. Ordering a judicial inquiry will only add to the burden of the state exchequer as was seen umpteen times in the past. What is needed is a thorough study by experts as to the pitfalls and how to overcome the same in future. Kerala is one state which gets excessive rains and there is every possibility that a disaster, if not of such magnitude, can happen again. As the CM said, “Calamities would haunt us in future too. But how we are avoiding casualties is going to be one of our critical objectives.” Wise words worth remembering while in power.
Regarding the controversy surrounding foreign aid, Chief Minister Vijayan may have made a mistake by making public a private conversation he had with leading Malayali industrialist Yusuf Ali, who has enormous business interests in the Gulf. Rather than questioning the veracity or the quantum of aid, those who are criticising Vijayan must realise his concern in rebuilding the state for which enormous funds are needed. If India could help other countries in times of crisis, there is nothing wrong in India or an Indian state accepting such aid from outside. It is no big deal in making exceptions when the case is genuine even if a rule exists barring such aids. It is creditable on the part of Vijayan that all along he had deliberately kept himself out of any controversy regarding Central aid. Not once had he said anything against Prime Minister Narendra Modi or the BJP. So it was unwarranted on the part of state BJP president P.S. Sreedharan Pillai to drag in politics by saying “a vicious smear campaign was unleashed against the Centre and Prime Minister Narendra Modi” regarding Centre’s rejection of foreign aid. The need of the hour is to keep politics out and concentrate on rebuilding the lives of millions and the economy of a state. So far CM Vijayan has been doing a job worth praising. And as he has put it, “Kerala requires a different yardstick…Help from all around the world will go a long way in our efforts to overcome this calamity.” It would be advisable for others, irrespective of political affiliations, to give a helping hand to him rather than trying to pull him down.