The ghosts of 1999 super-cyclone that ravaged Odisha are still haunting the Congress party, as it cautiously planned relief operations in yet another post-cyclone situation after Phailin hit the coastal areas of the state on Saturday. The task, however, is tougher this time as rival Naveen Patnaik’s administration has already made elaborate arrangements for the victims.
In 1999, the state was run by a Congress government with Giridhar Gamang at the helm of affairs, when the super-cyclone hit the state, killing an estimated 10,000 people. The relief operations in 1999 led by the Congress government were severely ill-managed, leading to rampant loot, black marketing and adding further woes to the victims.
“This time, we do not want to repeat the mistakes of 1999,” said Congress MP Pradeep Majhi.
Majhi, who represents the worst Maoist-hit constituency, Nabarangpur, has been deployed by his party at Bhubneshwar to look after relief operations in wake of cyclone Phailin.
Congress general secretary in-charge of Odisha, BK Hariprasad, said, “We have converted all district committee offices into control rooms that are expected to work 24X7.” A smooth operation can earn a rare goodwill for the Congress in Odisha where it is out of power since 2000.
While its arch rival BJD, led by Naveen Patnaik, has mobilised the entire party machinery for the relief and rescue operations, the Congress seems to be focused on ensuring that the Central government’s aid is distributed properly. “We have also arranged for food packets, shelters and clothes and will conduct our own operations,” said another MP.
The Congress has set up its team for 11 districts that are feared to be affected by the cyclone. Each team is led by five leaders, including MPs and local MLAs.
“In 1999, there was a severe lack of co-ordination. We will definitely overcome it this time,” said a top Congress leader who didn't wish to be named.
While the party is ill-famed for its factional fights, it hopes that the internal feud doesn’t affect the relief plans.
In Delhi, Congress managers said party president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi are “closely monitoring” the situation and in regular touch with both the Central ministers as well as the state party unit brass.