[Editorial Analysis] Rescue, relief and renewal

Mains Paper: 2 | Governance

Prelims level: Kerala flood

Mains level: The Kerala model of disaster management shows how we can rethink our style of governance


• The Kerala flood has been huge in scale and almost unprecedented.

• One has to go back to 1924 to think of a flood of a similar scale.

• Yet this is one disaster that has avoided exaggeration.

Kerala style of governance an example

• Mr. Vijayan has no time for blame games or electoral politics.

• There are no blame games but he is clear about the chain of responsibility.

• He has signalled that his concern is with people first, regardless of ideology or religion.

• He has made sure that relief is not parochialised or seen through a party lens.

• He might be of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), but he has convincingly acted as the Chief Minister of Kerala.

• All the malignant rumours spread by the right wing asking people to deny aid to Kerala as it helps missionaries leave him cold.

• He is clear about focus and priority, clear that this is not the time for electoral bickering or factional politics.

• The power of the narrative is that timelines were established, and timelines also defined the nature of responsibility.

• The quality of the debate, in fact, borrowed from the tenor of the response of the people.

• Kerala responded with dignity and courage.

• Over a million people went to temporary camps, realising that their houses had been destroyed or damaged.

A social solidarity

• The responses, especially of older people, added to the dignity of the discourse. Kerala did not behave like a victim population.

• It insisted on the agency and created the ground for citizenship.

• Keralites outside the State responded immediately; and between the style of governance and the spirit of voluntarism.

• Kerala created a social solidarity which was almost unique. People owned up to each other and voluntarism added a powerful sense of competence and sympathy.

• It is this exemplary notion of citizenship that set the contours of the debate.

• The survivor and the victim insisted that they are citizens, and this elaboration of citizenship in disaster situations makes Kerala an exemplar of a democratic imagination.

• Suffering found a language beyond the political economy, but suffering also found a long-range locus in ecology and development.

• The flood became not an act of god or nature, but a social event to be analysed sociologically.

Lessons from this damage

• There was a recognition that the floods have erased Kerala of the last phase.

• A new society has to be invented to replace the old.

• The standard disaster narrative of rescue, relief, rehabilitation is yielding to rescue, relief, reconstruction.

• Mr Vijayan is clear that a new Kerala reflecting on ecology and development has to be invented.

• The old resilience has to be backed by a new infrastructural sustainability.

• As Mr Vijayan himself said, during the 1924 flood there was one dam, “while today there are a total of 82 dams, including 42 major ones”.

• New forms of control and sustainability have to be invented. Behind it there was a sense that governments must use disasters as moments of paradigmatic change.

• To build the infrastructure of the kind Kerala need will take at least two decades.

• A flood becomes an initiation to rethink democracy and governance, reconnecting it to issues of environment, culture and livelihood.


• It has to emphasise the biggest danger, one of the greatest faults of the old model of disasters.

• For all their scale and the scandals of new ideas they raise, disasters as policy memory are forgotten too easily.

• Old lessons are never learnt and new ones also are forgotten.

• A disaster as a narrative must possess the quality of storytelling.

• Talk of suffering has been translated into new models of justice.

• One hopes Kerala creates new panchayats of the mind to work on this problem.

Link – https://tt93a.app.goo.gl/UCyszefTMmqmCfVt5

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