A general view of the floods caused by the river Rishiganga on February 7 in Uttarakhand (Image credit: Tribune India)

It was politics as usual when Uttarakhand was devastated in 2013, 2021

Though it would be inappropriate to draw political parallel between two tragedies which struck Uttarakhand in less than eight years yet there are some similarities between the two natural calamities.

When the furious river Rishiganga was causing devastation on February 7 it was business as usual in rest of India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on his visit to poll-bound states of Assam and West Bengal where he was busy inaugurating several developmental projects. In separate programs he was talking about the achievements of his government and highlighting the failures of the opposition parties.

Adhikari Family

Incidentally, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee was not present at the inaugural function of an LPG import terminal at Haldia in East Midnapore district and 348 km-long Dobhi-Durgapur natural gas pipeline.

However, the Trinamool Congress party MP from Tamluk, Dibyendu Adhikari, was present on the occasion. As Dibyendu is the brother of Suvendu Adhikari, who had a couple of months back crossed over from the TMC to BJP, there are now speculations that he too may join the saffron camp.

Interestingly, their 80-year old father Sisir Adhikari is a three-time TMC MP from Kanthi and he may be next in the line to jump on the BJP bandwagon. Though the BJP always accuses Mamata Banerjee of promoting her nephew, Abhishek Banerjee, it is the Adhikari family which has a much bigger presence in the party.

Later the TMC accused the Prime Minister of politicising the government function.  The Rajya Sabha MP of TMC, Sukhendu Sekhar Roy was quoted in the media as saying that his party would not respond to the allegations made by the Prime Minister at the BJP rally in Haldia because of the natural disaster in Uttarakhand. He said that his party would react on Monday.

2013 Politics in Bihar

In the same way when on June 16, 2013, flash flood and lightening was wreaking havoc in the same state killing more than 5,700 people, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar was busy in implementing his own political plan. That was the day he snapped his 17 years-long relationship with the Bharatiya Janata Party which was something unexpected.

True, he had made up his mind much earlier and it was only coincidental that Uttarakhand was struck by such a disaster.

Personal loss to Ashwini Choubey

However, one politician who has perhaps not yet forgiven Nitish Kumar for this action is none else but the present Union minister of state for health in the Narendra Modi cabinet, Ashwini Choubey.

As in summer and early monsoon a large number of tourists and pilgrims visit the highland of Uttarakhand, Ashwini, then a minister in Nitish cabinet, too made his plan days ahead though he was well aware of the political turmoil going on in his state, Bihar.

But the calamity proved tragic for Ashwini as he lost seven members who had accompanied him to Kedarnath. This included his brother-in-law, an English journalist, his wife and a nephew. Besides, Ashwini’s own security personnel and his family priest also died on that day. When he was stranded without food for two days, he learnt that Nitish Kumar had sacked 11 of the BJP ministers in his cabinet.

Nitish was upset as the BJP was about to project Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The decision in this regard finally came three months later.

Modi was then the chief minister of Gujarat and claimed that his government had done enough to rescue thousands of tourists and pilgrims of his state after the devastation. But the ruling UPA in Centre and several journalists had strongly contested this claim.

Peeved, Nitish returned to the BJP camp four years later when he abandoned the RJD on July 26, 2017 to re-join the BJP.

On February 7 though no such parting of ways took place, yet it is true that on this day too politicians were busy in their own business.

Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist based in Patna.

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