Natural disasters can make or break political careers. Ask George W Bush. His inept handling of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina remains an indelible part of his legacy. David Cameron of the United Kingdom was careful to be seen in rubber boots, while touring the areas affected by the 2014 floods. Closer home, Narendra Modi considers his intervention post the 2001 Gujarat earthquake as his baptism of fire. He assumed office as the chief minister of the state on 7 October 2001 and his first task was to oversee the reconstruction and rehabilitation after the 26 January 2001 earthquake. He was to do an encore in 2013 after floods and landslides wreaked havoc in Uttarakhand, which is considered to be India’s worst natural disaster since the 2004 tsunami. Then, he was in the news for organising an express evacuation of pilgrims hailing from Gujarat. Most recently, the Modi government was responsible for the evacuation of 4,000-odd Indian nationals and hundreds of foreign nationals from a strife-torn Yemen. So, it should come as no surprise to many that it was Modi who broke the news of the disaster that had just hit Nepal to Prime Minister Sushil Koirala. What followed was remarkable: India’s Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) to Nepal in its hour of grief was unprecedented in its extent and scope. Men and material were mobilised without delay and the first tranche of Indian relief reached the Kathmandu Valley in record time. The task was made challenging by India’s desire to evacuate its own nationals to safety, for which purpose the Indian Air Force flew sorties braving the bad weather and brought home about 3,000 of them. As Modi said in his Mann Ki Baat radio address on 26 April, “For 1.25 crore Indians, Nepal is their own. India will do its best to wipe the tears of every Nepali, hold their hands and stand with them.” He sought to remind listeners that he could feel the pain of the people of Nepal as he had himself seen the 2001 Gujarat earthquake from close quarters.
That India was ready and willing to help the Himalayan republic has been well-received not only in Kathmandu but in some other capitals around the world; now it needs to build on this goodwill as Nepal embarks on a long and arduous task of rebuilding itself all over again. And what better humanitarian gesture and confidence-building measure than for Prime Minister Modi to visit Nepal and be one with the Nepalese people in their sorrow. Modi is travelling to China in mid-May and he would do well to use that opportunity for a stop-over in Kathmandu on his way to Beijing. Meeting with the affected families and surveying the devastation first hand would be just the right message to send out at this
unfortunate juncture. Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat of Nepal says Modi has taken “personal interest” in rescue and relief efforts. “He (Modi) called Prime Minister (Sushil) Koirala in Bangkok and there has been close coordination and consultations between the two governments,” Mahat tells this writer during the course of a telephone conversation on 28 April (see interview). Asked whether Nepal would indeed be hosting Modi soon, Mahat is careful to say that he wouldn’t know as such communications generally take place between the respective foreign ministers or prime ministers. Incidentally, Nepal is the only foreign country which Modi has visited twice in the past year. He first visited Nepal in August on a state visit; he followed it up with a second visit in November for the 18th SAARC Summit.