People in Kolkata are yet to recover completely from the terrifying Posta flyover collapse last week. In the meantime,electoral politics is going on in full swing with the Assembly elections in Kolkata knocking on the door. The political perspective was, however, provided by our honourable Chief Minister who didn’t hesitate to draw a parallel between the collapse of the flyover in 2016 and the inauguration of the project in 2009, during the left regime (The Left Front was replaced by the TMC in 2011).
The sultry April afternoon in Kolkata bore witness to chaos, horror, injuries and death as a 60m tract of the proposed Girish Park-Howrah bridge flyover crumbled on top of commuters and vehicles in the peak hour. Media footages captured the gruesome sight of people either crushed under the massive weight of the pillars or struggling to crawl out from the dust and debris. Former Urban Development minister of the Left front government, Ashok Bhattacharya put the blame on the ruling party, singling out the syndicates under the TMC government that supplied construction material to the project.
The President of West Bengal State Congress, Adhir Ranjan Choudhury has asked current Urban Development minister Firhad Hakim to speak up on the issue. The degradable act of benefitting from disasters,be it natural or manmade to gain political leverage is not something unprecedented in Bengal. We have witnessed the tug of war between political spearheads following the AMRI conflagration and the Kamduni murder.
The flyover tragedy exposed, yet again the incapability and incompetence of the state disaster management units, represented by men who work at a snail’s pace. According to a witness, they procured the gas cutters and other essential tools from an adjacent shop. By the time they managed to get in the thick of the situation, a considerable number of people had perished. Some,though survived were severely injured or crippled. The arrival of Mayor Sovan Chatterjee and Fire Minister Javed Khan was greeted with remarks like ‘sab chor hai’(all of them are thieves) and outbursts of discontent.
The construction of the flyover had missed eight of its deadlines because IVRCL, the company entrusted with the task fell into bankruptcy. A senior IVRCL manager, Pandurang Rao was swarmed with criticisms by branding the mishap as ‘an act of God’. The Kolkata police have started a suo-moto case against IVRCL and a five-member team of the Kolkata Police has reached Hyderabad and questioned the IVRCL officials.
Failing to take the situation in their grip, the disaster management units sought the help of the army. As the evening drew in, the army-men stepped back and reported that the state police force didn’t allow them to work freely. The two parties were at loggerheads for about an hour or two, valuing their self-respect and pride over the safety and security of people.
The leading politicians, both of the ruling and the opposition twisted the unfortunate incident into a political blame-game. The Chief Minister held the Left Front as ‘accountable’ for the cave-in which sparked off retorts and counter-retorts. Politburo Chairman Biman Basu claimed that the section that gave in was constructed under the TMC regime.The act of passing the buck is still going on while the commuters and local residents are apprehending a possible collapse of another section of the dreaded flyover. The Union Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, M.A Naqvi accused Mamata Banerjee and the state government of ‘criminal negligence’ regarding the delay in relief work. Moreover, Naqvi didn’t miss out on condemning the government’s tie-ups with corrupt syndicates and business firms.
The BJP has pulled itself out of controversies for the time being and is aiming at creating an impact in the Bengal Assembly elections. Posta, where the flyover caved in is under the jurisdiction of the Jorasanko constituency which has the largest concentration of businessmen and traders in the city. Biharis, Marwaris and Gujaratis make up a sizeable part of this community and their propensity to the party at the centre is a long-known fact. Their contributions as voters helped BJP acquire the highest share of votes in the Jorasanko constituency in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The BJP is therefore on the move to instigate hatred for the ruling in the political landscape of Jorasanko.
Kolkata is going to elections on April 21 and April 30, which is suggestive of the fact that the mishap will exert at least some measure of influence on the polls. Still recuperating from the Narod sting operation scandal, the flyover collapse has the potential of affecting the performance of the ruling party in the forthcoming elections. In the realm of politics, opportunism seals the victory. Our politicians are dehumanizing their people into mechanical entities called ‘voters’ who are valued only for their ability to vote, not for the qualities they possess as human beings.
Written by Samyabrata Das