Sushma Swaraj’s tweet pointing fingers at Uttrakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna’s efficiency or lack of it in rising to the occasion may have sparked off a heated exchange between the Congress and the BJP, first on the Twitter and then through verbal bites, but there are many in the ruling party who share the feelings of the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha.
The fact that the Congress Central leadership had to rush its seasoned general secretary Ambika Soni and Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh to Dehradun apparently to aid and advise the chief minister, announce some additional administrative measures and central assistance, is an indicator that the party is not fully convinced with Bahuguna’s abilities to handle the current crisis. Though the party is fully backing the chief minister for now, questions are still being raised on his capability to deliver.
A joint media briefing held by Bahuguna, Ramesh and Soni to spell out the measures taken by the state government and the Congress party seemed to convey a message that it was not Bahuguna who was in charge. It was central party general secretary in-charge of Uttrakhand Ambika Sonia who appeared to be in control and the one who spoke with confidence. Bahuguna had come after a Cabinet meeting and spoke of the decisions taken but it needed Ramesh and Soni to explain the import of those decisions in greater length.
The state government has decided to create a statutory Uttrakhand Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Authority, which will plan, oversee and monitor all expenses from funds that are coming from various quarters. Though Bahuguna made an initial announcement, along with a mandatory thanks giving to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Ramesh and Soni added how setting up of this committee will help re-build the state in a transparent way.
Bahuguna, who first came in for criticism for his absence from Dehradun when the calamity struck Uttrakhand, now has to deal with the pent up anger of his party MLAs over relief matters. One such legislator, representing Kedarnath, was made to be present at the press conference and it was left to Soni to announce that the legislator had certain genuine grievances but those have been sorted out. “The fact that she is present here and is standing right behind me, not in front, clearly suggests that the issues she raised have been taken care of,” Soni said.
She then went at length to tell about a Cabinet decision, something that should have been fully in domain of the chief minister, how the government had decided to put MLAs and MPs on board in a committee chaired by district magistrates in all the districts to monitor relief and rehabilitation work.
Soni also talked of her holding separate meetings with the MPs and MLAs, ostensibly to soothe ruffled feathers and try to convince them that they should work united in this hour of monumental crisis. The party leaders have got an assurance that their voices will be heard by the state government. But in a situation when the public representatives are at the receiving end in their respective constituencies, their patience could run thin in due course.
The state government is now facing ire of the people of Uttrakhand who feel that since rescue of the stranded pilgrims was priority of the armed forces, relief to the local residents had completely been neglected. As it is relief to the locals was the responsibility of the local administration, which had completely collapsed. This was further compounded by Bahuguna’s initial expression of helplessness to deal with the crisis.
There are also complaints that the relief was not reaching to the needy and in areas where it reached it was so meager that it could no way satisfy the huger of affected people, many of whom had lost almost everything that they had. Even the Congress is not sure whether the relief material loaded in 125 trucks flagged off Sonia Gandhi had reached to those who needed it most. The Congress has now set up a control room in Dehradun to monitor movement of relief material and also hold a daily press conference to detail about the progress.
It was again Soni who said that government would soon print and distribute a booklet specifying the relief and rehabilitation measures undertaken and the time frame in which various new projects would require to be finished. “With that booklet in your hand, you can ask questions about monitoring and implementation of relief and rehabilitation work,” she said. That booklet would bring no relief to Bahuguna, unless he makes a resolve to build a new Uttarakhand and showcases a new model of reconstruction.