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Sandeep Sahu

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By Sandeep Sahu

It is no secret that politicians are held in extremely low esteem by most people in the country. And Monday provided yet another instance - if one was needed at all - why they are such a despised lot.

The occasion was Union Petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan’s visit to Malkangiri, which has been in the vice-like grip of Japanese Encephalitis (JE) and an as yet unidentified virus that has left over 100 children dead in the last two months. The visit, originally scheduled for November 4, had already been postponed once after the state government advised him not to come on ‘security grounds.’

It is not clear how exactly the visit of the Union minister is going to help matters when a team of experts on vector-borne diseases sent by the Centre has already toured the district and made its own assessment. If the idea was to empathise with the people in their hour of grief, one wonders if the purpose had been served by such a visit. In any case, what the people of Malkangiri need right now is not empathy, but succour in the form of emergency medical attention.

That Pradhan chose to make an issue out of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s failure to visit the district so far suggests that more than expressing solidarity with the people of Malkangiri, the idea was to score a few political brownie points.

Not that the Chief Minister covered himself in glory by not visiting the district where the disease has assumed near epidemic proportions or by refusing to provide security to the Union minister during his visit. The Malkangiri SP’s labored explanation notwithstanding, the fact remains that the state government acted petty in refusing security to the Union minister. On its part, the BJP too did not let go of this opportunity to fire a political salvo at the Chief Minister, who also happens to be the Home minister of the state. With bullet proof vests and a team of armed-to-teeth BSF personnel accompanying them, the BJP team led by Pradhan got better security during the visit than the state police could have provided them. So, what exactly was the party cribbing about? Here too, what was at play was more politics than any genuine apprehension on the security front.

The ‘credit’ for the most laughable comment during the day, however, goes to senior BJD leader and newly inducted spokesperson of the party Surya Narayan Patro, who taunted Pradhan for politicking on the issue rather than sending a team of doctors to help contain the spread of the dreaded disease in  Malkangiri. The former minister has perhaps forgotten that it was his own government that had refused the offer made by the Centre to send a team of doctors when scores of children were dying at the Sishu Bhavan in Cuttack last year. The state government’s astounding claim at the time that there was no need for a team of doctors from Centre since its own doctors were eminently capable of meeting the situation did not convince anyone. If anything, it only proved that the decision was prompted more by a desire to deny Pradhan to take some ‘mileage’ out of the issue than out of any real conviction in its preposterous claim.

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It is this desire to get or deny ‘mileage’ even in the case of a human tragedy of such magnitude as seen in Malkangiri that has reinforced the image of the Indian politician as a heartless creature devoid of emotion, sentiment and empathy, who is only interested in scoring political points. For their own good and for that of the country at large, it is about time politicians worked towards changing the public perception about themselves. If they don’t and continue with their brazen ways, there may come a time in the none-too-distant future when all the trappings of power would fail to save them from the wrath of the people. Forget the Maoists, they would need protection from the very people they claim to represent!

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