Disaster politics

In BJP's lone south bastion


The north Karnataka response of the B S Yeddyurappa-led BJP government, to one of the most crippling floods, was slowly and steadily shaping up as one of the best examples of public private partnership, when the whole endeavour is threatened by crass politics. And at whose expense is this dirty game of one upmanship being played? The state’s, of course, which in turn is met by people’s contribution, voluntary or otherwise.

Let's start off by paying a well-deserved tribute to the chief minister, who, in a rare show of maverick, galvanised overwhelming and unprecedented public support to the cause of the flood-hit even if his initial response was delayed. Unlike in most natural calamities, this time the funds flow was a major psychological boost.

While the chief minister’s padayatra in Bangalore raised a whopping Rs 1,000 crore in public contributions, a matching sum was promised by the prime minister as interim relief from the Calamity Relief Fund, of which Rs 500 crore has been released with uncommon speed.

Then, there was also the commitment of another Rs 500 crore by the Reddy brothers of Bellary and their mining clan, even if it is money due to the exchequer for evaded taxes and taking an unpardonable toll on the country’s natural (iron ore) as well as man-made resources (roads).

So, there was enough seed money, goodwill of the people and the Central government, and things were moving smoothly when everything came to a virtual grinding halt.

Perhaps, the CM did fault in overlooking the critical role of the revenue minister in disaster management of this nature. The CM's dependence on the ministers for rural development and water resources more than the revenue minister, might have understandably irked the latter. Even in the allotment of helicopters for aerial survey and relief operations, the rural development minister, who happens to be the only woman (or man?) on Yeddyurappa's cabinet, got precedence, it is charged. Adding insult to injury, the CM changed horses midstream by appointing an independent MP and a corporate honcho to oversee relief work.

Another folly on the part of the chief minister is said to be the warm hearted welcome he extended to his visiting Andhra Pradesh counterpart K Rosiah. The Reddy brothers, on the contrary, take to Y S Jaganmohan Reddy, MP and aspirant for the Andhra CM's gaddi, like a fish to water because of their common business interests.

The last but not the least irritant to the Reddys and their mining lobby is the toll on iron ore carrying trucks imposed by the state government. Their contention is that the government should be content with the one-time flood relief grant of Rs  500 crore pledged by the mining lobby and not ask for more!

Engineering a rift

The CM’s mistakes conceded, are these reasons strong enough for the Reddy brothers to engineer a rift in the party government and run a virtual parallel government in the name of independently carrying out relief works? From where did they derive such automatic powers in a system where the chosen head of the legislature party leads unless and until he is relieved of the charge. In short, it is not just the CM but the entire BJP leadership that the Reddys have upstaged. Whither the discipline that the BJP and its ideological arm, the RSS, so proudly flaunt on their sleeve?
And this is not the first time that the Reddy brothers have sought to arm-twist the BJP's first government in the south to have their way. Each time they throw tantrums, they have sought to find a dummy to project as their future leader, simply because they neither have the clout nor the confidence to lead themselves. In the past, they tried to rope in Siddaramaiah of the Congress and failed. This time round, they are trying to pit Assembly Speaker Jagadish Shettar against fellow Lingayat Yeddyurappa but the former too is unlikely to play into their hands.

And BJP’s ace trouble shooter Arun Jaitley has left after another round of peace brokering between the chief minister and the Reddy bloc, which has become as routine as the RSS baithaks. While he was here, three precious mandays of relief work were lost. And to add to the misery of the suffering flood victims, top officers involved in relief works in the Reddy fiefdom have been replaced. It will be quite some time before the newly posted officers come to grips with the situation.

One more question begging an answer is why did not the chief minister or the revenue minister mobilise the State Disaster Managment Authority constituted in January last, which has  representation from all the relevant sectors like Red Cross, civil defence, scouts and guides and many more.

 If the revenue minister does not fancy outside inference in his work in the form of MP Rajiv Chandrashekar as overseer appointed by the chief minister, he could requisition the services of the authority.

And one last request to the Reddy brothers, who have both the money and the wherewithal to build 50,000 houses for the flood-hit on their own. No mean task, indeed! Would they please relay and maintain National Highway 48 linking Bangalore-Mangalore, the worthiness of which is as crucial to their overladen iron-ore trucks as the commuters of coastal Karnataka?

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