The Game Of Political One Upmanship Over Latur's 'Water Train' Is Disgusting

12/04/2016 5:17 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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SANGLI, INDIA - APRIL 11: Workers feeling water tankers train carrying water to drought affected areas in Latur district on April 11, 2016 from Miraj Station near Sangli, India. 50 wagons with 1 million litres of water would reach Latur, providing much-needed relief to drought-hit Marathwada. Section 144 was imposed in Latur a fortnight ago after water tankers were being attacked by thirsty residents. (Photo by Uday Deolekar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Earlier in the day, a ten-bogey train rolled into Latur, a district in Maharashtra's Marathwada region which is reeling under the worst drought in the country in 100 years. The train was carrying 5 lakh litres of drinking water, which will now be stored in a well and then distributed across homes in Latur.

Is it a moment to rejoice? Perhaps, for residents of Latur who have been pining for water, it is a moment of great relief.

However, one needs to go just briefly back in time to understand the circumstances which led to the water train being sent to Latur. On 22 March, it was reported that Section 144 has been imposed in Latur to prevent people from rioting over water. A report on India Today, stated: "The local police manning the water tankers are not allowing more than five people to assemble around it at one time. Ground wells are also being guarded by cops." This decision was taken after mobs desperate for water started to hijack water tankers.

So the 'water train' was rolling into a perilous environment with such extreme desperation that people were ready to physically hurt each other for water.

drought india

Like this article by HuffPost India's Betwa Sharma argues, the blame for Maharashtra's drought can't be pinned on the BJP government alone. For several years, the Congress government too had miserably failed to address the water woes of the state. It's the failure of administration and prudent farm policies and crop selection that has pushed Latur and other districts of Marathwada to a tipping point.

Political parties shouldn't at all hold up the 'water train' as some sort of an achievement. However, in India, where parties regularly play pass-the-buck over disasters and lose no time in claiming credit for relief, Latur was no exception. This report points out that no sooner did the train pull into Latur that BJP supporters started crawling all over it pasting posters hailing their party. The Congress, which runs the civic administration in the district, weren't willing to be left behind. They also came armed with their own posters and pasted them over the train. This is, sadly, not unusual in our country. After the Chennai floods, Jayalalithaa's supporters seized relief material contributed by non-governmental agencies and insisted they bear AIADMK stickers.

drought

Several hundred kilometres away, Arvind Kejriwal, who plans to make a splash in the Punjab polls this year, was unusually impressed with the Narendra Modi government for arranging the 'water train'. As headlines claiming Kejriwal has praised Modi started doing the rounds of the internet, something seemed amiss. Till it was revealed that Kejriwal has written a letter to Narendra Modi today praising him for his work, but also offered to send 10 lakh litres of water everyday to Latur for two months. He promptly retweeted the tweet of a Dainik Jagaran journalist, which carried a scanned version of the letter Kejriwal has sent to the Prime Minister.

The timing of Kejriwal's interest in the state and the spectacle he is seeking to make out of the helping hand seems a bit strange. While he has continuously talked about the crisis faced by farmers, especially in Maharashtra, if he did intend to send a water train, why did he send the proposal to the Prime Minister after the BJP government organised the water train? It's not difficult to miss the hint of oneupmanship in his declaration that he could send 10 lakh litres of water everyday--twice the quantity of water carried by the present train--to Latur. Marathwada comprises eight districts, most of which are reeling under the drought. Latur is just the worst-hit and showing signs of breaking out in violence.

Kejriwal, in the later dated 12 April, says that the PM should also urge other states to follow suit. With this generously publicised declaration, Kejriwal perhaps hopes to achieve two things: one, the impression that he can better a BJP government. Two, AAP is the first of all state parties to offer to help a state it has no presence in. Both fit perfectly into the scheme of AAP's national ambitions.

But most importantly, it's a signal to the farm state of Punjab, where AAP is leading opinion polls to win in 2017. In Delhi, Kejriwal doesn't have much of an opportunity to signal his affinity for farms and farmers. If a big announcement to help farmers in Maharashtra is what will signal to Punjab voters that AAP is a party that cares about farmers, so be it.

Viewed thus, with a healthy dose of cynicism, it makes the AAP looks borderline opportunistic.

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