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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 40, September 24, 2011

Tragedy, Farce, New Revelations

Editorial

Wednesday 28 September 2011, by SC

The massive earthquake that shook Sikkim and adjoining areas, including Nepal, Bhutan and other parts of north India (notably north Bengal), in the evening of Sunday (September 18) has taken a heavy toll. While the number of those killed in the quake (which measured 6.8 on the Richter scale with its epicentre near the Sikkimese town of Mangan, close to the Nepal-Sikkim border and 68 km northwest of Gangtok, the province’s capital; 20 minutes later two aftershocks—measuring 6.1 and 5.3 on the Richter scale respectively—were felt in Sikkim and its neighbourhood) is continually on the rise as more bodies are being pulled out of the rubble in the Himalayan State, the official death toll stands well above hundred with Sikkim alone accounting for 74 (deaths have also occurred in Nepal, Bhutan, Bihar, West Bengal and Jharkhand).

As Sikkim grapples with the consequences of the quake, the appeal from India’s star footballer Baichung Bhutia, who was himself caught in the devastating calamity, for unstinted help to overcome the losses suffered by the State and its people has been most timely. As he succinctly put it, “Every day things are getting worse as the death toll is rising. Rescue operations are slow and are being hampered by rains and landslides. Roads have been cut off and it is very difficult for rescue workers to get to the far-flung areas, especially north Sikkim, which has been worst hit.” Neverthe-less, it must be pointed out that our defence personnel are doing a splendid job in assisting the injured and the needy defying all adversities.

As Sikkim and a substantial part of the Himalayan belt suffered such a natural disaster, Gujarat had to experience the farce of an anashan (fast) for sadbhavana (goodwill) undertaken by State CM Narendra Modi who did not even think of such an exercise when it was most needed—that is, more than nine years ago at a time the province witnessed the worst communal pogrom in independent India. Surrounded by his admirers, Modi delivered confident speeches aimed at hogging the national limelight which he did. But it was also obvious that with all his “successes” he was, in fact, presiding over a hopelessly divided polity—the victims of the 2002 carnage were nowhere to be seen: they were actually prevented from reaching the venue of the fast and thus they decided to violate the prohibitory orders and get arrested. The hypocrisy of sadbhavana stood glaringly exposed.

Meanwhile, even as the mass agitation-cum-hunger strike against the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu has been withdrawn for the present following State CM J. Jayalalithaa’s assurance and the movement for Telangana has again crippled life in Andhra Pradesh, the Supreme Court’s monitoring of the 2G spectrum scam has taken a new turn: on the one hand, telecom regulator TRAI’s report purportedly assessing zero loss in the 2G spectrum allocation during A. Raja’s tenure as the Telecom Minister came under sharp criticism from the Supreme Court on September 21, the Apex Court was, on the other hand, furnished a note from the Finance Ministry (now being run by Pranab Mukherjee) indicating that the Ministry during P. Chidambaram’s stewardship as the Finance Minister could have prevented the then Telecom Minister A. Raja from going ahead with the controversial sale of licences on a first-come-first-served basis had the then Ministry under Chidambaram stuck to its stand of “auctioning the 4.4 MHz spectrum”; in that event, the note disclosed, the DoT (Department of Telecom) would have been forced to cancel the licences. Does this presage a brewing conflict within the UPA? Whatever the answer to the query, this new development has given fresh ammunition to the Opposition, especially the BJP leaders, to tear into the ruling coalition much to the Congress’ discomfiture.

Perhaps a new drama is about to unfold in New Delhi’s corridors of power.

September 22 S.C.

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