chap who alleged he was in charge of rounding up the Gujarati pilgrims said, “It was a very tough task, going around asking everybody whether they were Gujaratis, so that we could rescue them.” He said he had great difficulty fending off hordes of non-Gujaratis who clamoured piteously to be rescued.
But others claim that in their eagerness to meet the target of 15,000, many Uttaranchalis were forcefully rescued. “I was sitting quietly in the meadow minding my goats,” said an Uttaranchali, “when I was suddenly nabbed and forced into an Innova. Next thing I know, I woke up in Ahmedabad.” Many stranded pilgrims supposedly tried to pass themselves off as Gujaratis. “We hung up a sign saying, “We are from Gujarat,” complained tourists from Mizoram, “but for some reason they disbelieved us.”
A gang of contractors from Dehradun waiting to go to Ahmedabad on business managed a free trip. “When we saw Modi’s people approaching, we broke into the song, “Kem Che” from the movie Jis Desh Mein Ganga Rehta Hai,” said Ram Lal, adding that after that they had no difficulty passing themselves off as Gujaratis. His associate Shyam Lal maintained they ate dhoklas throughout the trip, so nobody suspected them. But not everybody believes these weird reports. “Yes, 15,000 people were rescued, but it was Rajnikanth who did it,” said a movie buff.
Incidentally, the claim that Modi used Innovas to ferry the pilgrims has been a huge public relations coup for Toyota. “It now stands proved that the Innova can travel faster than any known vehicle, go where there are no roads, cross streams where there are no bridges, roll blithely over landslides and fit more than 20 people to a car,” crowed a guy who said he was a company spokesman.
Other politicians have been watching Modi’s heroic feats with envy. “The whole story was apparently masterminded by an American public relations agency hired by Modi, which has also boosted the images of several Central Asian dictators. Couldn’t we hire the guys in charge of puffing up North Korean strongman Kim Jong-Un’s image?” demanded a so-called Congress leader. Unreliable stories have come in about the Bodoland Autonomous Council sending a Boeing aircraft to evacuate the lone Bodo tourist stranded in Hardwar.
While the Congress and TDP fight over how many they can rescue, others have adopted different methods. “We are promising free laptops, free mangalsutras and free husbands to folks who agree to be rescued by us,” said a political worker from Tamil Nadu. There are unverified reports that politicians who woke up late to the Uttarakhand disaster are keeping helicopters ready so that they can race to the next natural calamity.
A self-styled member of the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council lamented that not a single Karbi had gone to Uttarakhand. “Whom do I rescue?” he cried plaintively. He asked me hopefully whether it made sense to send 15,000 Karbis to Uttarakhand now and then rescue them after a few days.
“Look on the bright side,” said a helicopter pilot who risks his life daily on rescue missions, “at least they’re not rescuing people on a caste basis.”
Views expressed by the author are personal