Racing to the scene of a tragedy, as many of our political worthies, starting from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself, did on Wednesday, would have made sense if their visits had helped the victims in any manner.
As it happens, the aftermath of the horrific bomb blast in the capital called for medical attention for the suffering and forensic evidence gathering rather than the impediments created by VIP visits to the hospitals.
Anger at the visits of several top politicians including health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, home minister P Chidambaram and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi among relatives of the victims was palpable. These visits could have been best avoided on a day like Wednesday when this created hindrances to the help that the victims were getting.
In such a fraught atmosphere, there is bound to be suspicion that these are just political photo-ops and will serve to bring no real succour to anyone. It all boils down to an issue of priorities and purpose. In some events, a VIP visit to a scene of a tragedy can actually help.
But this must be carefully calibrated.
To airdash, that favourite word of our netas, to the scene of a drought or a famine could ensure that timely help and supplies reach the needy. Indeed, this has happened before.
When West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee went to the hospital where there had been an uncommonly high rate of deaths of babies in Kolkata, the administration moved very quickly to set things right.
But, in a situation where speed is of the essence in getting help to the needy and ensuring smooth passage for medical personnel and the family members is a priority, VIP traffic tends to hold up things. The practice of VIPs going to hospitals announcing ex-gratia payments is also to buck the institutional system where such things should be done after proper verification of the matter.
We have seen that a visit by the prime minister necessarily means tight security on the premises.
It is unlikely that he will be able to make an appropriate assessment of the needs of the victims or undertake anything meaningful in easing their trauma or pain. To some extent, we can understand the compulsions of leaders in going to such places.
They are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. So in order to obviate unproductive criticism, it would be better to issue a statement on the reason why they would prefer to stay away in a situation such as that on Wednesday.
The symbolism of the highest in the land visiting victims may not be lost on people. But at times, substance has to take precedence over hollow symbolism.