Recently there were lots of news & controversy about ‘Rambo’ act of Narendra Modi, specially after front page article of Times of India. Hear it from the horse’s mouth in this article which got published in Times of India website on June 29.
Please do read it till end to understand some facts related to the story & definitely some Myths about the Act.
Why Modi’s rescue act backfired, and why it needn’t have
On June 22, as Narendra Modi held a meeting in Dehradun’s Hotel Madhuban with top BJP leaders and bureaucrats from Gujarat regarding the crisis in Uttarakhand, a party worker, clearly impressed by the relief-and-rescue systems the chief minister had put in place, wanted to talk about it with me. He wasn’t even offering me a story. He was perhaps only hoping that I would be interested enough to write about it.
“Boss, what I have seen here is exceptional,” the man, Uttarakhand’s BJP spokesman Anil Biluni, told me. He was working so closely with Modi perhaps for the first time and was overwhelmed. It was a crowded room in the hotel where the conversation took place – leaders from the state, bureaucrats, security officers were milling around. Everyone had something to say. Modi was next door, still huddled with his people, brainstorming. It was about 8.30pm.
“Ok,” I said, finally. “Tell me about it.” Biluni spoke of the crack rescue team Modi had got together to get Gujaratis out of Uttarakhand. In the group were five IAS, one IPS, one IFS and two GAS (Gujarat Administrative Service) officers. Two DSPs and five police inspectors had also come along. They were all personally coordinating efforts and reporting directly to Modi. The Gujarat team had already para-dropped a couple of medical teams in some of the worst-affected places and set up camps across flood-hit Uttarakhand. Prominent BJP workers at the village and panchayat levels were dealing unhindered with members of the rescue committee, telling them where food, shelter and medicines were needed.
“See,” Biluni excitedly went on, “around 80 Toyota Innovas and 25 buses have been requisitioned to ferry Gujaratis to safer places in Dehradun. There are four Boeings on standby. I think in the past four days we have helped send home 15,000 Gujaratis.’’
The number struck me. “Did you say 15,000?” Biluni answered in the affirmative and said that’s the number those on the field had given him. It is entirely possible that we have helped extend support in terms of reaching food, transport, first aid, even some money, to 15,000 of them, he said, quite earnest. “There were more than 1 lakh pilgrims from Gujarat when the tragedy happened starting June 15.”
Close to 70,000 stranded people had been evacuated by the armed forces by then; many, held up at less dangerous places, had found their way back on their own. It seemed feasible that 15,000 had been given succour by Modi’s team.
The next day, when TOI carried a story on its front page that `Rambo’ Modi had rescued 15,000 Gujaratis (the headline, given by a well-meaning but enthusiastic desk hand, brought sharper attention to the piece), it created a flutter that almost swamped everything else that was being written from Uttarakhand. In the rush of things – I filed the story at around 10.30pm, late by our deadline standards – we made one crucial mistake. We failed to put the figure of 15,000 in single quotes. And because Biluni was quoted in the story, we took it for granted that the number would obviously be attributed to him.
In any case, the point of the story was to talk about Modi’s by now familiar micro-management of things and, two, to hint at the fact that here was the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate looking out for fellow Gujaratis, still trapped by his parochialism.
All hell broke loose and the heavens shook. There were frenzied debates on TV, online participation and a slew of agonized editorials. The BJP, happy till two days after the story appeared, suddenly froze. What was it doing talking about the rescue of Gujaratis as the country was headed for general polls and its man from Gujarat nurtured hopes of becoming the PM? Party president Rajnath Singh suddenly waded into the debate and said he didn’t know where the contentious figure had come from.
I knew about the storm the story had unleashed but was still writing from Uttarakhand. That was when Prashant Jha from The Hindu called me to talk about the article. In another front page write-up, he mentioned the fact, quoting me, that unlike what Rajnath announced, the story had indeed come from the BJP. That set off another round of requests for interviews from papers and magazines regarding the Modi story.
In hindsight, it would have served the BJP better had it owned up to the story. From all accounts, Modi was indeed doing a good job in Uttarakhand. All that the party’s spokespersons needed to say as rejoinder was that with such confusion all around the numbers – 15,000 – could have gone awry a bit on the higher side. That would have taken nothing away from the story. As a senior party leader later said, “It is a fact that thousands have been helped by the Gujarat government. And nowhere are we saying that Modi flew the choppers himself. We are just saying he extended all help that he could to thousands of people.”
Madhu Kishwar a few days later wrote a lead edit piece in The Economic Times, headlined ‘In Defence of Rambo’, and said that the Gujarat CM’s rescue efforts in Uttarakhand was really not aimed at publicity, nor was it a gimmick. She said: “Gujarat today has a fighting-fit bureaucracy because it was enabled to develop expertise, team spirit and deliver results under the most adverse circumstances. The Gujarat Disaster Management Authority (GDMA) has become a thoroughly professional institution capable of responding to natural or man-made disasters. It has a 24×7 monitoring system and well-publicised helpline numbers well known to Gujaratis — both in the country and abroad… That is why the first response of Gujaratis anywhere in the world is to contact the chief minister’s office if they are caught in a calamity.”
She went on to say: “Also, consider this. Modi arrived in Delhi late 17th night for a meeting with the Planning Commission on 18th when news of cloudburst and landslides was telecast on TV. He held an emergency meeting to take stock of the situation since he knew that thousands of Gujaratis are likely to be among the Chardham pilgrims. Right away, a camp office was opened at Gujarat Bhavan and the Resident Commissioner’s team in Delhi was made responsible for coordinating with Gujarati pilgrims. On the 18th morning, Modi called Dr Pranav Pandya of the All World Gayatri Parivar to provide space and infrastructure in his Shanti Kunj campus for the relief centre proposed to be set up by the Gujarat government. He chose this campus because of his close knowledge of, and rapport with, this Gandhian institution that can house and feed thousands of people at a short notice. On the 18th evening itself, a set of computers with internet connections, telephone lines, television sets and all other paraphernalia required for Gujarat government’s relief operation were set up. Therefore, when a team of Gujarat government IAS, IPS and IFS officers came, they could get going within minutes of reaching Shanti Kunj… Team Gujarat had two officers from Uttarakhand — Assistant Director General of Police Bisht and Forest Service officer SC Pant — who had close knowledge of the terrain to guide both the stranded pilgrims as well as rescue teams on the safest possible routes to take…When Modi landed in Dehradun, Team Gujarat was already in control. Far from attacking the state government, he offered all possible help…officers were provided phone numbers of BJP functionaries of all 190 blocks in Uttarakhand and vice versa… The Congress party is understandably upset because its chief minister has proved a disaster, its party machinery is in disarray, Congress Sewa Dal workers are nowhere in sight, Rahul Gandhi’s Youth Brigade is clueless even in routine situations, leave alone know how to face a crisis like the Uttarakhand deluge. That is the reality of the Uttarakhand relief operation led by Narendra Modi.”
There was also a preposterous insinuation that the Modi story was “fed” by his “public relations agency, an American outfit called Apco Worldwide. In 2007, Apco was hired, ostensibly to boost the Vibrant Gujarat summits, but to actually burnish Modi’s image, for $25,000 a month”. The fact is that it happened at a more organic level, the way it happens when reporters are on the ground and begin speaking to the people they trust. Sitting in Delhi, away from the spot and burdened by ideology, columnists quite often lose objectivity or don’t care too much for it. A reporter, provided his integrity is intact, can spot a ‘plant’ a mile away in the first year of his career.
So that’s that about the Modi story. That it came from one of the BJP’s leaders; that, to be fair to Biluni, he did not try to hardsell it; that in the mad, late night scramble to write the story we missed directly attributing it to the source or putting the said number in quotes; that the party made things worse by pretending they had no idea where all this was coming from; that instead of doing its bit to make Modi look like a hero they unwittingly turned him into the butt of jokes; that in such a charged political atmosphere, what with Modi’s increasing focus on New Delhi, the story acquired wings and dimensions of its own – like the Innovas with helicopter rotors.
(…from Times of India – Original Article Link: http://bit.ly/19MECSP )
- Modi never claimed he rescued 15,000 stranded Gujaratis: Rajnath (ibnlive.in.com)