It was a gesture that no one but the most petty-minded could take issue with. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to spend Diwali in Jammu and Kashmir and meet jawans in Siachen was a symbolic show of solidarity with both the flood-affected and those who guard the highest battleground in the world. Of course, the Congress dismissed it as a political stunt, to which we can only ask the party why it did not think of a similar gesture. While Mr Modi’s visit lifted the spirits among the affected and among our soldiers, what has come as a disappointment is the amount he announced by way of funds for rebuilding destroyed homes. A mere Rs570 crore amounts to nothing in the face of the devastation suffered by the state. And Rs170 crore for six hospitals again is grossly inadequate, given the volume they have had to handle and will continue to receive in the days to come. Of course, the National Conference’s demand for Rs44,000 crore is unrealistic, but what Mr Modi has offered so far is really small potatoes.
But, the larger significance of the visit is that it has kept in the limelight the tragedy, which is normally forgotten once it moves away from the media headlines. The state is headed for elections and naturally Mr Modi’s visit will also bolster his party’s chances. But the real challenge is in keeping up the momentum of relief and rehabilitation as the winter approaches. To this end, it is heartening that the Prime Minister’s Office has announced the setting up of a high-level committee to focus on rehabilitation in the state. If a concerted effort is made to lighten the burden on the people in the state, it will go a long way towards soothing hurt sentiments and feelings of neglect. But the Omar Abdullah government has not covered itself in glory with how it has handled the crisis. For a while, it seemed as though the state government had evaporated from the scene. Many people are still homeless and running from pillar to post just to survive. To politicise the PM’s visit would be a grave injustice to the people of the state.
All political parties ought to have been pitching in with whatever resources at their means to help. The best thing that could come out of the tragedy suffered by the people of the state would be if a mechanism were put in place to act decisively and quickly if such a natural disaster were to occur in the future. This is one thing that the high-level committee could look at. This should not be too difficult as Mr Modi seems to have led from the front on this issue.