Two different messages with two entirely different connotations underline the two widely different attitude and approach of Prime Minister Narendra Modi towards the two states of West Bengal and Odisha.
Both the states had to bear the brunt of the Amphan cyclone, but undoubtedly it was more severe in Bengal, which was completely atrophied and ravaged. In his two tweets while Modi expressed his deep concern more for Odisha: “My thoughts are with the people of Odisha as the state bravely battles the effects of Cyclone Amphan. Authorities are working on the ground to ensure all possible assistance to those affected. I pray that the situation normalises at the earliest”; his observation in regard to Bengal conveyed the impression of being perfunctory: “Have been seeing visuals from West Bengal on the devastation caused by Cyclone Amphan. In this challenging hour, the entire nation stands in solidarity with West Bengal. Praying for the well-being of the people of the state. Efforts are on to ensure normalcy.”
No doubt Odisha had to suffer the onslaught of Amphan, but the fact remains that Bengal has been completely withered away. At least five districts will have to start the process of reinventing their foundation and structure. The worst are South 24 Paragana and North 24 Paragana — the two adjoining districts to Kolkata. In the words of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who was monitoring the situation at the state headquarter in the Nabanna building around 2 in the dead of night: “Everything is finished. It is the greatest disaster”.
Mamata Banerjee in her late night message said: “Districts like North and South 24 Parganas, Howrah, Kolkata, West Midnapore, East Midnapore, even Purulia, Bankura have been affected by Amphan. In fact, the whole of South Bengal has been affected.” She said 99 per cent of South 24 Parganas district has been wiped out.
It is not that Modi should not have come to know about the ground reality existing in the two states from his mandarins and intelligence sleuths. As a corollary, it was expected of him that he should call the chief ministers and assure them of every possible help. But he refrained from showing this humane sentiment and feelings. Instead, he asked his close aide, the Home Minister Amit Shah to speak to Mamata.
Shah spoke to chief ministers of West Bengal and Odisha — Mamata Banerjee and Naveen Patnaik — and “assured them of all possible help to deal with the situation arising out of the super cyclone Amphan”, officials said. During the telephonic conversation with Banerjee on Tuesday, Shah took stock of the situation in West Bengal, where the cyclone was expected to make landfall on Wednesday, May 20.
He assured the chief minister of all possible help to deal with the situation arising due to the cyclone Amphan, a home ministry official said. In his phone call with Patnaik, Shah reviewed the situation in Odisha and assured him of the necessary assistance from the central government to tide over the situation.
But even before the phone call with Shah, Banerjee had extended invitation to Modi to visit the state with the expectation that he would provide some financial help to the state. Bengal already owes a huge amount to Centre. Yet, the Union government did not specify the real nature of help it would provide to the state.
Though Banerjee has put on record that state suffered a loss of nearly Rs 1 lakh crore, the intensity of the damage could simply be made out from the fact that nearly 72 persons have lost their lives to the Amphan cyclone; of these, 17 persons were killed alone in the heart of Kolkata. Historical facts underscore that disaster of this staggering scale had taken place in 1737 and at that time around 30 thousand people were killed. In the living memory, people recall, Kolkata had not witnessed this nature of catastrophe. Banerjee also announced an ex-gratia amount of Rs 2 lakh each to the family of those killed in Cyclone Amphan.
This year, too, a large number of people would have been killed, but prompt evacuation of the people in vulnerable areas averted creation of such a cyclonic holocaust. In Kolkata, the storm began with a wind speed of 69 kmph but it reached 130 kmph at around 6.55 pm and thereafter decreasing its intensity. In Dum Dum area, maximum wind speed recorded was 133 kmph at 1920 IST. Districts of East Midnapore, South 24 Parganas and North 24 Parganas were worst affected. The same areas were affected by Cyclone Bulbul in November 2019.
In rural Bengal, a large number of mud houses collapsed. A number of embankments were breached in coastal areas and reports of flooding in low lying areas were coming in from several areas in South 24 Parganas and North 24 Parganas districts. In North 24 Parganas district alone, more than 5,200 mud houses collapsed.
The cyclone hit the state at a time when it is already struggling to fight the transmission of the corona. Banerjee said: “On one hand we are fighting with Covid 19 on the other hand lakhs of migrants are coming back. Over all this, now the cyclone. I think that this (Amphan) is a disaster bigger than COVID-19. I would request (centre) please forget politics and co operate with us and save the people”. Banerjee added: “It is a devastation I have not seen in my life. Nearly 99 per cent of South 24 Parganas — one of the districts where the cyclone hit — has been wiped out. The damage to the state is worse than that it suffered due to coronavirus”.
The state did not suffer a huge loss of human life as it has moved 5 lakh people to shelters following the warning from metrological department. The administration had to be cautions due to COVID-19 situation in Bengal and tried their best to maintain social distancing. Meanwhile, keeping in view the intensity the cyclone, the administration had closed Howrah Bridge, Vivekananda Setu (Second Hooghly Bridge) and all flyovers in Kolkata for traffic.
Only six months back the state had faced Bulbul cyclone. It then spent huge amount on repair of the embankments and the bridges in South and North 24 Parganas districts. Now, the state government will have to rebuild again.
Banerjee said at the state secretariat, Nabanna: “I would urge the Centre to help us out and refrain from doing politics. We were suffering from an economic meltdown following the outbreak, and somehow dealing with the reverse migration. With the cyclone, the state is now completely destroyed.”