The media has been full of stories recently about Prime Minister Narendra Modi claiming that he was prevented from helping with the reconstruction of the Kedarnath temple – damaged in the cloudburst and deluge of June 2013 – and about his resolve to reconstruct the shrine this time.
We can only hope that the Supreme Court is awake – to tell him that he cannot reconstruct a shrine or a pilgrimage site belonging to a particular religion using taxpayer money. The court has only recently used the secular principle of statecraft to say that mosques, rozas, khankahs and dargahs damaged by rioting mobs in 2002 cannot be reconstructed using the public exchequer.
We can only hope that the court acts. But first, a look at what the man himself said:
“I had expressed my wish to carry out reconstruction work at Kedarnath to the then chief minister of the state who had agreed in principle. In my excitement I shared the development with the media and within an hour TV channels flashed it, causing a storm in New Delhi.
They (the then UPA government) viewed the development with a kind of alarm as they thought the Gujarat chief minister would now reach Kedarnath. They mounted pressure on the then state government not to agree to my request…
I went back disappointed. But perhaps Baba (Lord Shiva) had decided that the responsibility of doing reconstruction work at Kedarnath should be assigned to no one else but to Baba’s son.”
This is the fiction weaver at work again. The fiction this time being that he is in close contact with Lord Shiva himself, a deity who tolerates every human and inhuman vice. He is known to help the weak and power-loving devas and the asuras as well. He wants to test the limits of both goodness and evil. He, after all, is an Aughar Dani. So, Lord Shiva would not mind anyone claiming to be his son, even someone who on a different occasion sought to be accepted as Ganga’s son.
But this tale is not about Lord Shiva at all. This is about the fiction weaver and his modus operandi. Sadly, the media reported Modi’s lament and his resolve without reference to what it had reported earlier, in 2013.
“Narendra Modi lands in Uttarakhand, flies out with 15,000 Gujaratis,” the Times of India had gushed at the time. If you click the link now, you will find the page taken off the site. TOI has silently junked its report though the e-paper version can still be read. According to the TOI report, by Anand Soondas:
“But above all, he has also managed to bring home some 15,000 stranded Gujarati pilgrims.
The Gujarat chief minister, who flew in on Friday evening, held a meeting till 1 am with his crack rescue team of five IAS, one IPS, one IFS and two Gujarat Administrative Service officers. Two DSPs and five police inspectors were also part of his delegation. They sat again working out the nitty-gritty of evacuation in a huddle, that a senior BJP leader said lasted till 1 am on Sunday.
‘It’s amazing what he has done here,’ said Anil Baluni, a BJP leader. ‘If someone doesn’t like it, what can we do?'”
After this outlandish claim was made, Nitish Kumar was one of the first political leaders to question and lambast it. He was asked by the then chief minister of Gujarat as to why did not he go to Uttarakhand to rescue the stranded Biharis. Nitish retorted that he was no Rambo – the word the TOI used to describe Modi – and it was impossible to rescue 15,000 people in a single day in a deluge like situation of Uttarakhand.
Journalists like Sujan Dutta of The Telegraph and many others also rubbished the claim made on behalf of Modi.
The Indian army was shamed by the fans of the Indian Rambo. Dutta wrote:
“An officer in army headquarters was stupefied when someone responding to the army’s official Twitter account handle sent a direct message asking why the army cannot replicate what Narendra Modi has done.”
This, by those who swear by Indian Army day in and day out.
While The Hindu established that the source for the news Anil Soondas reported was the BJP spokesperson Anil Baluni, the fact remains that this claim ought to have been subjected to some basic cross-checking. Writing in the Economic Times, the business daily of the TOI group, Abheek Burman ‘fact-checked’ the claim made for Modi:
“Reports say that Modi pulled off this coup with a fleet of 80 Innovas. How did these cars manage to reach places like Kedarnath, across roads that have been washed away, over landslides that have wrecked most access routes?
But let us assume Modi’s Innovas had wings as well as helicopter rotors. Including the driver, an Innova is designed to carry seven people. In a tough situation, assume you could pack nine passengers into each car. In that case, a convoy of 80 Innovas could ferry 720 people down the mountains to Dehradun at one go. To get 15,000 people down, the convoy would need to make 21 round trips.
The distance between Dehradun and Kedarnath is 221 km. So 21 trips up and down would mean that each Innova would have to travel nearly 9,300 km.
It takes longer to travel in the hills than in the plains. So, assuming an average speed of 40 km per hour, it would take 233 hours of driving to pull off the feat.
This assumes non-stop driving, without a second’s rest to identify the Gujaratis to be rescued and keeping the rest of the distressed folk at bay, or any time to load and unload the vehicles. And forget about any downtime for the gallant rescuers.
That is nearly 10 days of miraculous work. And Modi pulled it off in a day?
Actually, in less than a day: a breathless media reported that by Saturday, 25 luxury buses had brought a group of Gujaratis back to Delhi. For some reason, four Boeing aircraft also idled in some undisclosed place nearby.”
Modi’s supporters kept claiming that the Congress government was mean to not have accepted the offer of 24 choppers. Later, the Hindustan Times quoted the then principal secretary of the chief minister of Gujarat saying there was no offer of choppers from the state.
But by then, the fiction had started living a life of its own. After all, this is a country of Hanuman. What Hanuman could do then, why couldn’t a modern Ram bhakt achieve now?
Barman told readers that Modi was a habitual fiction-peddler. Reminding them of of an earlier claim of Modi, he wrote:
“state-owned company GSPC had made India’s biggest gas discovery: 20 trillion cubic feet (tcf) valued at more than $50 billion, off Andhra Pradesh.”
Barman then tells us about the consequences of this false claim made by a person handling the tax payers’ money:
“under Modi’s rousing leadership, GSPC had poured in nearly $2 billion into exploration, much of it raised as debt based on its supposed 20 tcf gas find. When the gas vanished, GSPC went bust.”
The GSPC did not wait for experts. The central agency, the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons, which analyses and certifies all energy finds, said that all it could say was that there could be only 2 tcf of gas, which was one tenth of what Modi had declared, and that too in areas too tough to exploit.
But by 2012, following the lute-player, the GSPC had fallen in a deep ditch. It was then sagaciously advised by Modi to venture into areas like city gas distribution to rescue itself.
Till date, nobody has sought an explanation for this supremely irresponsible act of the then chief minister of Gujarat, which led to the destruction of a state agency.
Modi, one would remember, had started his prime ministerial campaign then. The 2013 deluge came as a windfall for him. The media was too ready to build and hand over to the country, a strong man, a Rambo, a rescuer. We clung to him.
From the heights of Kedarnath thus began the fall of this nation.
Apoorvanand teaches in Delhi University.