It’s not without reason that Uttar Pradesh is at the centre of any and every thing even remotely connected with politics. And so, it is no wonder that in this most populous state of the country, even matters of relief in situations of natural calamity – floods, droughts and hailstorms – spur politicians and governments in combative political slugfest!
Just last week, all hell broke loose and scribes were made to toil late night by the state government’s mandarins to try and tell the world, through the might of their pen (laptops) that the ‘water express’ tanker train sent to Mahoba in parched Bundelkhand was a “gimmick” and “politically motivated” move of the Narendra Modi-led central government to put Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP) government in the state on the mat.
While some hacks fell into the trap, old timers smiled and probably let it go as routine because the state and the centre have a long and acrimonious history of fights on such issues. Sample this: Bundelkhand has been suffering both the vagaries of nature and a fight for political one-upmanship for years.
Many years ago, Rahul Gandhi – he wasn’t the Congress vice-president then – visited the region and within days of his hugely-photographed trip, the UPA released a ‘Bundelkhand package’ running into millions of rupees. The Congress, with many of its leaders from the region holding plum posts in the ruling dispensation as well as in the government, claimed it was the party’s “humane package for the needy”.
The then chief minister, Mayawati, termed it to be “crocodile tears” and went on to say that she was at the forefront of relief to this region.
The present Akhilesh Yadav government was at loggerheads with the UPA-II government, which it supported from outside, when the 1,000-plus fleet of ambulances purchased under the centrally-funded National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) were termed ‘Samajwadi Ambulance Service’.
The centre protested but to no avail and the ambulances were rolled out by the state, in defiance of the union health ministry’s instructions. As a consequence, while Akhilesh Yadav generated some goodwill, specially in the countryside, funds to run the service dried up as the central government held back the money. The state government has since been running the service from its own resources.
Another unsavory spat that rocked centre-state relations was in early 2015 when hailstorms and rain wreaked havoc. The state demanded Rs.7,543 crore (over $1 billion) for providing relief to farmers while the NDA government released just Rs.2,801 crore, triggering a war of words between the two governments. The state said it’s too little, and the centre claimed funds were not being spent well.
The UPA government, too, responding to a demand of Rs.100,000 crore by the state, had only sanctioned Rs.13,762 crore between 2010 and 2014 for relief measures. The NDA regime had in 2014-16 given Rs.4,200 crore and has accused the SP government of not giving proper reports in time.
The ‘Samajwadi Drought Relief Package’ containing foodgrain, milk powder, rice and vegetable oil currently being distributed in the Bundelkhand region in bags carrying images of a beaming Akhilesh Yadav has also become a bone of contention. The centre and the BJP claim that 75 percent of the funds for this have been given from the National Disaster Relief Fund (NDRF).
Surely, some relief is required from this acrimony!
(17.05.2016 – Mohit Dubey can be contacted at [email protected])