The aftermath of floods in Kerala has been as tumultuous as the floods itself

The devastating floods in Kerala has shaken and stirred the country in an unprecedented manner. Nature’s fury, tragic scenes, political wrangling, communal rhetoric, diverse India uniting and a dash of comedy have ensued in the past fortnight. It all started when the Home Minister of India made a quick visit to Kerala and announced a immediate relief fund of Rs. 100 crores. Problem was, Kerala Govt. had asked for more than Rs. 1000 crores. Then the PM wanted to do an aerial survey and assessment of the affected areas with his team. Problem was, thousands of people were stranded in the floods in inaccessible areas where only helicopters could reach them. For rescue, military personnel deployed were only in hundreds. All state TV channels were impressively covering flood affected areas to the best they could. Politicians and government officials in the name of aerial survey were using helicopters that could have been used to rescue people. Moreover their aerial survey was inhibiting the rescue operations. They should have simply stayed at home and watched TV.

Then the Central govt. announced a flood relief package of Rs. 600 crores. The simmering social media erupted. A Govt. that has thousands of crores to give as loans to other countries and for building statues did not have enough money for saving it’s own people’s lives. The reasons were quite evident. The communally harmonious society of Kerala has never allowed BJP to plant it’s roots in the land even though RSS has been actively trying to find some ground. The frequent clashes between RSS and Communist cadres is the clear testimony of that. RSS has even gone to the extent of eliminating it’s own people for defaming the Communists as has been found out from police investigations in some of the cases. The Left parties won the last assembly elections and are in governance of the state now. Moreover Keralites have unanimously rejected any ban on eating beef. The Central govt. has been at loggerheads with the state govt and the Kerala society as a whole which got clearly reflected in the callous approach of the Central govt. towards the time of crisis.

What the Central govt. needs to understand is that Kerala is a part of India and is one of the highest payer of central taxes and excise duties to the Central govt. Kerala govt. had only asked for the support and assistance it is entitled to get. As per 2015-16 estimates, Kerala has 2.7% of India’s population and contribute 4.4% of its GDP. For every ₹1 Kerala pays to the centre, they get only 25 paisa back. And Kerala gets only 3.25% of its GSDP from centre. Every Malayali who stays in Kerala pay ₹12572 per year to centre in different form of taxes (2015-16 data). Rejecting the requests of Kerala govt. and offering measly sums as relief packages is clearly a violation of the federal structure of governance of the country.

Meanwhile a comical episode started off on the side when the ruler of UAE met a prominent Indian businessman and apparently told him that he would be willing to give a relief package of 100 million USD to the Kerala govt which was in turn conveyed to the Kerala CM. Then the ruler of UAE tweeted a statement of support and solidarity towards the people of Kerala which was responded by the PM with a tweet of gratitude. The next thing everyone got to know is that the Central govt. had rejected the offer of help from UAE citing an incident from the past when the erstwhile UPA govt had refused to take help from foreign countries. The ruler of UAE in turn stated that he never made any explicit offer of help. All of this made me wonder why people in important places are tweeting and talking about providing assistance for such a huge calamity on social media when they should be working towards getting help to the affected people. So essentially the Central govt. neither showed willingness to do enough for flood relief nor allowed governments from other countries to help which got totally exposed with this incident.

The communal elements across the country did not sit idle either. RSS was trying to spread it’s own organizational propaganda in the name of helping flood victims. Posts and comments started pouring in on social media about why the people of Kerala should suffer because Keralites still continue to eat beef and the women of Kerala are trying to desecrate the sanctity of Sabarimala by trying to get equal rights to enter the temple. Arnab Goswami has even gone on record to call the people of Kerala as shameless ones. All of these are stark reminders that we have only found freedom from foreign rule and we are a long way away from cleansing our society of the many evils and darkness that has taken control over our minds and thoughts.

In the meantime, the govt. of Kerala got pulled into a couple of raging debates. One was about the handling of excess dam water and the opening of dams which ensued in large scale flooding. OPIndia, an online news platform has falsely interpreted a NASA weather report and claimed that the timing of the opening of the dams resulted in the floods across Kerala (http://www.opindia.com/2018/08/nasa-confirms-delayed-opening-of-dams-coupled-with-rains-led-to-kerala-floods/). NASA’s report (https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2018/nasa-captures-monsoon-rains-bringing-flooding-to-india/) only mentions that above average rainfall caused floods in certain parts of India. Nowhere does it link floods with the management of the dams. Commonsense says same amount of water would have flowed out regardless of when the dam was opened. Only difference would have been in the amount of pressure of the released water. In normal case, rainwater swells rivers which ultimately flows out into the sea. In this case, excess rainwater swelled up river banks and water flowed into human settlements where it got stuck causing floods. Excessive rainfall, human encroachment of land, poor maintenance of drainage systems can all be blamed, but questioning the timing of opening of dams is blatant blaming and false propaganda against the Kerala govt. The Minister of Fisheries of Kerala has stated in an interview on a state TV channel that people had claimed land from the rivers for their constructions and farming and the rivers simply took back those lands which was the best way to explain what had happened. Flooding in human settlements should not be blamed on any governments in particular. The civil administration (municipalities, corporations) should be taken to task for illegal constructions, unplanned expansion of towns and cities and poor maintenance of infrastructure.

The second one was about a 2011 environmental report which stated that large scale sand mining and deforestation is damaging the environment and destabilizing the natural ecosystem of the Western Ghats. This is not for any one govt to take blame. When there is no control over population growth and we venture out into destroying nature for our needs, nature will take it’s own course of corrective actions to stabilize itself. Destruction of nature has been happening across all the states. Nature conservation and environmental protection is a national level problem which the Central govt. and all state govts should come together and discuss upon. Maybe it is time we took a leaf out of China’s development model. Every year a certain amount of forest land is acquired for development activities and at the same time a certain amount of unused or waste land is marked for conversion back into forest area.

In between such a massive tragedy and all the ensuing chaos and mud slinging three factors have stood as silver linings and shining beacons. The first one is the communal harmony of the Kerala society which has only grown stronger in the face of the calamity. In the aftermath of the floods, pictures have emerged of Muslims cleaning a temple compound, something unimaginable in most places in India. Second is the absolutely massive level of support and solidarity Kerala has received from all over India. Support in the form of relief funds and materials have flowed to Kerala right from Jammu and Kashmir. Just the ideal reminder that we may be divided by many reasons but it takes just one reason to unite our minds and thoughts.

The third one is the best of it all. The fishermen of Kerala swooped into the flood waters to save lives as if they were from another world. None of the military might of the world can match their skills in water. They ride the huge waves and choppy waters of the seas in their boats and ships like normal people walk in the park. They moved in silently into the flood waters, saved thousands of lives and went back expecting nothing in return and earning the highest respect from all quarters. When high seas ravage their dwellings and they have to rebuild their lives year after year the rest of the state lives in complete ignorance about it. It is high time the state govt. starts working towards the betterment of the fishermen community.

I am not sure if we have seen the last of the controversies yet. Someone has tweeted questioning the possibility of using the gold stored in the vaults of the Padmanabhaswami temple in Thiruvananthapuram. I am waiting to see if this is going to stir the hornet’s nest. The problem with using the gold is, if we knew why so much gold was accumulated and stored we would also know when to use it.

Advertisements

The rise of the mediorporate empire in India

The fact that media works for the rich and the powerful is an open secret, but the growth of this relationship in India has been meteoric. If we ruffle through the pages of history across the world, we can see that media has always been under the control of the government or the affluent class and so media had to be their mouthpiece. This reminds me of the iconic HMV logo. The logo can be interpreted as “The voice is yours but the words are mine”. This is exactly what media has become in India. The words that come from their voices come from somewhere else.

As we moved towards a more democratic society with the objective of ushering in more equality, the media was expected to play a significant role in highlighting all discriminations in the society regardless of anyone’s social status. That is why media is considered as the fourth pillar of democracy. But little do we realize that in the hindsight, all the media companies are owned by the top business houses directly or have stakeholders who owe allegiance to these business houses and the business fraternity is naturally connected to the political class. Now this is where society gets fragmented into the classes of haves and have-nots. What role does media play here? Any incident involving normal people have little or no interest for the media unless there is any scope for them to sensationalize the matter and increase their sale of newspapers or increase their TRP ratings on television. But when it comes to incidents about the affluent class, media is gagged mainly because of one reason. The perception is that have nots are struggling to make a living and they neither have time to understand the high rise lives of the haves nor it is their business to know. So media doesn’t have to report those incidents.
Nowhere else in the world is the corporate-media nexus so strongly evident as it is in India presently. Media was always under the control of the government until big bang economic reforms opened up India’s market to the world. The corporate world gobbled up a large portion of a rapidly rising media influence in the country. This nexus helps the political class immensely because media and political class are usually at loggerheads and since the corporate class has one foot in media and the other in politics, they ensure that this “triad” is working seamlessly for each other’s benefits. There are enough and more examples to shine the light on.

The Indian media sordidly tried to glorify the achievements of the Indian government in the aftermath of the recent earthquake in Nepal with disastrous consequences. They were trolled, ridiculed and booted out of Nepal by the local people. The same media connived with the corporate to install the new premier of India and with whom they travel everywhere to glorify him at every opportunity. A hit and run incident involving the scion of one of the top industrialists was never made public by the media. The media is just being used as a tool to work in the interests of certain sections of society and to target everyone who is opposed to this elite class.

On top of all this, all that matters to Indian media is their TRP ratings. Some of the things that they do to up their ratings is truly appalling. Like going to a place where people are killed, either by natural disasters or by terrorism and ask the survivors how they are feeling at the moment when all or most of their relatives are dead. There are news anchors who are simply ranting their way through debates and discussions. They carefully choose topics for debates during which they can engage in high octane conversations. Watching most of the Indian news channels has become a disgusting and time wasting activity which gives people no true information and no proper insights into matters of importance in the country. A few of these debates were shown to the people in the US and their reactions were hilarious. They were waiting to see when the war of words would break out into a full blown battle with hands and feet.

It would be a fantasy to even imagine that we can get honest information about current affairs from the media. Social networks are filling up this void very quickly. But internet and social networks are yet to penetrate many parts of India. For those people, newspapers, radio and TV are the only sources to know about what is happening in the country. By feeding them skewed information, political parties are successfully maintaining their vote banks. As it stands, it is not possible to fight this system. Either the “triad” has to collapse on it’s own or educated and experienced people have to step out of the shadows and wage a long drawn battle. Fortunately, one has started in India right from her capital, Delhi.

There was an eye opening perspective about media which I read in an article some time back. Every information media feeds us is to enslave us to the corporate world and to create negative energy around us. This is why issues are sensationalized and we hear so much raving and ranting in debates and discussions. When I watched news channels after I read that article, I could actually feel negative energy creeping into my mind. I have argued strongly with my dad over many issues in the past while watching news channels on TV. I am presently on a boycott of newspapers and TV news channels I usually watch BBC World if I have to know about current affairs across the world. I may be missing out on some genuine news but the benefit of not absorbing negative energy into my mind far outweighs any good information I get to hear and read from the news. All it takes is honest, unbiased reporting but as long as shady corporates lord over the media companies and news is reported by those who have sold their souls, nothing will change and the “triad”will continue to wreck our minds with their banter if we allow them to.