Kerala: Tragedy on the ground, and off it

21 Aug,2018


By Ranjona Banerji


It took the national media some time but eventually everyone got around to covering the devastating floods in Kerala. There was the matter of the death of AB Vajpayee, former prime minister of India and founder of the BJP. Obviously, that needed proper coverage. And there is always the problem of the national media being based largely in the north of the country. Kerala, for those who may not know, is in the South.

By my reckoning, it took about a week of sharing photos and videos on Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter to wake up the mainstream media and turn its gaze to Kerala. It was social media which brought the desperate plight of the people of Kerala to the forefront. Photos were shared, appeals were made. The Kerala chief minister’s office played a very large role in galvanising people to donate. And the general public stepped up in a most gratifying manner. The News Minute, a digital newspaper, based in Bengaluru was also a galvanising force.

Heartening stories came out of Kerala, of fisherfolk risking their lives to save people, of the Armed Forces and paramilitary forces, as usual, going above and beyond. There was some criticism that the National Disaster Response Force was sent late, but since then it has also put in huge rescue and relief efforts.

It was not the best way in which any natural calamity or national disaster was covered but eventually, the media caught up with what was happening. The challenge now is to ensure that this coverage continues. Because it is after the dramatic rescue and human interest and bravery stories end, that the long haul to recovery and normalisation begins. And that is where the media needs to be more, not less, vigilant. History is not kind to us here but perhaps there is a need to learn from mistakes of the past?


Many media and other agencies also put out platforms and appeals for donations. One misses however the format and enthusiasm of newspapers which were at the forefront of such appeals, where we all donated at least one day’s salary and collected money for relief efforts. Newspaper space would be set aside to print the names of people who had donated. I saw an ad asking for donations in the Times of India’s Dehradun edition but did not see any editorial space given over to this effort.

I would be grateful if any examples of newspaper contributions could be sent to


The tragedy as usual is those on the “other side”. Since Kerala is now ruled by the Left Front, many on the right tried to create an “agenda” to prove that somehow Kerala deserved this calamity or that the RSS had done the most work. Photos of RSS workers at earlier floods in Gujarat were circulated on social media by any number of worthies.

It was amusing, in that odd sort of way, watching pro-BJP upright Indian citizens fending off questions from upright usually pro-BJP TV anchors about the mass of rightwing hatred and lies which has surrounded the Kerala floods and relief effort this week. No, no, such people should be ignored, no no, do not confuse the issue with all this and such earnest, if tired and cliched, pap.

The problem is that some of these rightwing people were pretty high up in the rightwing Universe. For instance S Gurumurthy, recently appointed director of the Reserve Bank of India and RSS economist, tweeted that the floods were connected to the affidavit in the Supreme Court about allowing women in to the Sabaramala Temple.

Other such bilge followed and not just from “fringe” elements. Kerala is one more Hindu versus the rest battlefield in the eyes of many connected to the BJP and RSS. Appeals have therefore gone out to say not to donate because Kerala is a state filled with Muslims and Christians and that donations should only be made to the RSS to ensure that Kerala Hindus get the money.

Luckily, thanks to social media, this sort of hatred is easily identified and exposed.

I cannot recall, while at Mid-Day when we collected money for the survivors and affected families of the Kargil War, for instance, this sort of hatred being displayed in public.

O tempora o mores?



Finally, here is a story you are unlikely to see anywhere but in local newspapers. The glitches that surrounded the immersion of Ab Vajpayee’s ashes in the Ganga at Haridwar. This is from The Times of India’s Dehradun edition. Do let us know if you saw anything like this on Times Now.



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