Prime minister Narendra Modi attracts strong, polarised responses: you either love him or hate him it appears. Which is why searching for the middle ground when it comes to Mr Modi is never easy. Over the years, I have attempted that but found myself being pigeonholed by my criticism of Mr Modi’s handling of the 2002 Gujarat riots. I have always maintained, and continue to do so, that Mr Modi as Gujarat chief minister failed to do enough to stop the violence. And yet, my criticism of Modi circa 2002 has not blinded me to the fact that he has done much since then which he has justifiable reason to be proud of. The latest is the manner in which the government swung into action in the Nepal earthquake.
The quake has seen Mr Modi at his best. Within hours of the news breaking, the prime minister had put the government in fast forward mode. It was a lazy Saturday for many, but not for the prime minister who galvanised the state machinery into readiness to help in the enormous quake effort. Disaster management systems in the country have improved immeasurably in the last few years, but any system looks for leadership at times of a crisis. This is where Mr Modi, like an efficient CEO, backed by an highly motivated team of officials, has shown himself up for the task. One can only draw a contrast with Uttarakhand two years ago where the state and Central government — both Congress-led — struggled initially with the magnitude of the task before them because there was a leadership deficit at the state and the centre.
But let’s also be clear: Operation Maitri is not about an individual, but a TEAM effort involving hundreds of people. Yesterday, on my programme, I had an Air Force officer who was telling me how his men have been flying night sorties to Kathmandu: first Yemen, now Nepal, our naval and air pilots have been working 24 x 7 for the last month. The NDRF and armed forces have been equally brilliant: it can never be easy to climb the mountain slopes and rescue people. They did it in Uttarakhand, they are doing it again. Our embassy in Kathmandu has been quietly efficient in evacuating scores of people. NGOs are soft targets nowadays, but I know of many who are working relentlessly in the affected areas and providing relief. The RSS too has often been singled out for its communal agenda but there is little doubt that in an emergency situation like a quake, the swayamsevaks admirably rise to the occasion.
Which is why I think Nepal should be a moment to celebrate the capacity of the Indian state and it’s people to reach out to those in distress. Sadly, there is a section of Modi supporters who see this as an occasion to engage in unabashed vyakti puja and build a personality cult around their leader. It’s the same lot who embarrassed the prime minister during the Uttarakhand relief operations by attempting to project Mr Modi as a Rambo-like figure who was almost single-handedly rescuing people. Rambo then, Superman now: it’s this tendency to place credit at the door of an individual rather than the team which we must desist from. As the prime minister himself so aptly put it: rather than Thank you Modi, the real thanks should be to our great culture which emphasises ‘Sewa Parmo Dharma’. A little less vyakti puja, a little more jan sewa would be a truly inspirational message.
Post-script: with much of the attention justifiably on Nepal, let’s not also forget the death and destruction along the border areas in Bihar, UP and Bengal. A journalist friend in Bihar tells me that the Nitish government too has been making every effort to bring relief to people. I don’t think somehow Thank you Nitish will ever trend on social media!