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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 19 New Delhi May 2, 2015

Enormity of Nepal’s Tragedy

Saturday 2 May 2015, by SC


While fears of epidemic mount in Kathmandu with many bodies yet to be removed, Nepal’s PM Sushil Koirala has said the death toll in last Saturday’s 7.9-intensity earthquake that rocked the Himalayan state with unprecedented ferocity—it was the worst such natural calamity the country experienced in 81 years—could touch 10,000 since information from the affected remote villages is yet to come. South Asia has not been witness to such a terrible human tragedy in recent times and all countries in the region as also the world at large need to extend every possible help to assist the Nepalese people over-come the trauma of devastation that has profoundly affected them since the afternoon of April 25.

One may have serious differences with our PM and the political organisation he represents on many counts none of them trivial. Yet there is no gainsaying that, as former Governor of West Bengal, High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and ambassador to Iceland Gopal Gandhi (now a distinguished Professor in History and Politics in the Ashoka University) has stated in a recent article on the issue of earthquakes, Narendra Modi’s “reflexes in rushing aid to quake-struck Nepal have been perfect”. This unstinted help has been readily acknowledged by several other states, including the US, and the Nepalese leaders themselves. Yet the magnitude of the task at hand is dawning on everyone with each passing day. There seems to be no end to Nepal’s misery—heavy rains are hampering and holding up rescue operations, soaring prices of key goods are adding to the citizens’ woes. And reports from Kathmandu suggest that with the situation worsening due to several factors there is an exodus out of the capital city.

Among other reports one has come across the information that yesterday India rushed its Gorkha soldiers to remote areas in Nepal for an assessment of the kind of assistance required in the coming days so as to get a clearer idea of the extent of damage and the relief needed.

No doubt Nepal is facing an extremely difficult, grim and uncertain future at present. Former Indian ambassador to Nepal Jayant Prasad has pointed out in a recent article: “Given the scale of damage to Nepal’s people and infrastructure, it faces an immediate and monumental challenge, and not for the first time in its recent history.” At the same time he quotes the former Foreign and Home Minister of the country, Madhav Ghimire, to affirm that the latest crisis also offers “an opportunity... for its political parties to come together and formulate a consolidated roadmap to cope with the tasks ahead—first, providing relief and rehabilitation; second, a robust plan for disaster management, and eventually, completing the unfinished peace process”.

Meanwhile the slugfest on the political front continues with elements like Sakshi Maharaj accusing Rahul Gandhi of being responsible for the Nepal quake and its aftermath using the most bizarre of arguments. One would have easily ignored such wild accusations as the rantings of an insane person had he not been an honourable MP but the fact is that he is so and he is not being reined in by the ruling party he represents in Parliament.

And in the Upper House there was pandemonium followed by repeated adjournments yesterday with the Opposition members strongly objecting to the PM’s sharp criticism of the previous government durng his recent foreign tour (in particular his remark in Canada that he wanted to “clean the dirt” of 60 years). Yet Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who is also the House Leader in the Rajya Sabha, stoutly defended Modi saying “there is no gag order” on the PM when he is overseas. This is the clearest indication of the fact that the present government is resolved to trample underfeet the time-honoured convention that internal issues of the country should not be put on display by Ministers in general and the PM in particular abroad.

The government-Opposition confrontation is doubtless mounting. Would it soon reach a flashpoint?

April 29 S.C.

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