Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa is known to be a person of few words, but perhaps this was not the occasion to have kept quiet as a catastrophe of such monumental proportions hit Chennai. The prime minister showed the way by going to survey the damage and offering financial assistance but we have heard too little, too late from the chief minister on the situation. There is not much that can be done now to alleviate people’s suffering other than to ensure that help reaches the needy and lines of communication are kept open, but it would have been heartening for the beleaguered citizens of Chennai if the chief minister had reached out to them rather than just make a statement on relief. Worse, there is the appalling news that AIADMK supporters have been seen stopping trucks containing relief material and insisting that stickers bearing the image of Jayalalithaa be put on them before they reach the needy.
The AIADMK has a culture of sycophancy but to display it at this time does not reflect well on the chief minister or her administration. In fact, even officials have been reluctant to share information with journalists and others for fear that this will violate the party’s dictates. To be fair, the opposition party in the state has extended a helping hand and risen above politics. This is a time when people are hungry for information and the state administration has to be alive to this rather than shut off people in this manner. The chief minister cannot be unaware that she has to lead from the front on this occasion.
There is a pressing need for a new urban plan for the city. Earlier entreaties by civic organisations and environmentalists against the construction of a second runway on a river bed were ignored with negative results. Thanks to the activities of over-zealous party workers, the situation is now in danger of being politicised and this is something that must be firmly resisted by the party leadership. If this becomes yet another political football, as has happened so often during past natural calamities, it will be disastrous, given the extent of suffering and damage that the city has endured and the remarkable courage shown by its citizens in the face of all odds.