From darkness, can there be light?
Three arterial power lines in northern India failed and plunged approximately 700 million people from 21 states and UTs into total darkness. Rail and air services were disrupted, miners from Jharkhand and Bengal were trapped in coal mines, and the common man was slow-roasted under an unforgiving July sun. And as this catastrophe unfolded, Union Minister for Power, Sushilkumar Shinde, moved out of office and took over as India’s new Home Minister. It was business unusual.
Congress spokesman Manish Tewari attempted to assuage public anxiety by claiming that there was no power crisis in India. He’s right, of course. There wasn’t a power crisis in India, there just wasn’t any power. Here, it would be unfair to blame the state of affairs only on Mr. Shinde. He has, after all, only done what his predecessors have been doing since Independence. Which is nothing.
But the massive power outage not only accentuates (if any accentuation was necessary) the dilapidated state of infrastructure in India, but also highlights its impact on India’s national security. How would we, for example, be able to deal with military conflict on our western border, or an unfolding terror attack in New Delhi in such a situation?
To be sure, grid failures are not an uncommon phenomenon. Massive power outages have after all, affected the U.S.’s East Coast and Southern California in the recent past. What is unique here is not so much the crisis, but the UPA’s mishandling of the response.
Simply, the crisis is reflective of the UPA and the state of governance (or lack thereof) in India. Yes, Mr. Shinde’s transition to the Home Ministry had already been made public a few days ago. But surely a calamity of this proportion demands the resolute commitment of the incumbent minister to see the country out of the catastrophe. In almost any other country in the world, political transition would have been deferred in order to resolve the crisis. But not in ours, apparently. Exit stage right, Mr. Shinde. Enter stage left, Mr. Moily.
It is quite remarkable that the UPA leadership felt no compelling need to ask the incumbent Minister of Power to stay on and resolve what is now being referred to as the “world’s worst power outage.” National interests are, after all, subordinate to party interests in this day and age. It is even more remarkable that the UPA appears to be disinterested in even projecting an illusion of leadership to the people of India.
As is the UPA’s wont, they have said nothing about the crisis, their plans to resolve it, or the political transition in its midst. The Prime Minister himself has had nothing to say about this, or any other crisis affecting the nation under his watch.
The French philosopher Tocqueville famously remarked that in democracy, we get the government we deserve. It would be worth remembering this when general elections come a-calling in 2014.