Yet another tragedy and yet another politician creating controversy with insensitive and illogical comments to defend the government for its negligence.
This time it's Sanju Verma of the Bharatiya Janata Party who proclaimed on a news talk-show on Thursday that the foot over-bridge collapse in Mumbai that killed at least six people was a 'natural disaster'.
Within hours of the tragic accident that took place at 7.30 pm leaving at least 40 people injured, the political and administrative blame-game begun. Mumbai's Shiv Sena ruled civic body Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and the Railways ministry blamed each other for the failure while Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said that whoever cleared the bridge as safe for use during its audit must be held responsible for the failure.
And Sanju Verma, one of BJP's Mumbai spokesperson, has simply decided to blame the pedestrians and bad luck.
"It's not the government's responsibility. It is a natural calamity," she said on a panel during a particularly intense screaming match. Though the host tried to reason with her, Verma would not deter from her stand and went on to say that excessive pedestrians walking on the foot-bridge caused it to collapse.
Her crass and insensitive comments have come under fire on social media. Some called her behaviour arrogant while others said it was entitlement on her part.
THIS is what happens when you don't question your leadership. (Any party, anywhere in the world) It leads to this level of asinine arrogance. Even as people die @Sanju_Verma_ of the BJP says it's the people who are at fault 🙏 #MumbaiBridgeCollapse pic.twitter.com/4qSxLwNQ7r — Akash Banerjee (@akashbanerjee) March 14, 2019
Someone please ask BJP spokesperson @Sanju_Verma_ to shut up on @TimesNow She is blaming pedestrians and common citizens for collapse of the bridge in Mumbai. Truly shameless comments. Anchor @navikakumar shut off her mike but she continues her obscene rant. — Pritish Nandy (@PritishNandy) March 14, 2019
But is it really surprising? Nope.
This is not the first time a politician has made unpalatable comments in times of distress or tragedy either to shirk responsibility or accountability or to milk political benefits and voter sympathy. It is hardly surprising that emerging spokespersons such as Sanju Verma would resort to a rigid defence of the government, even in the face of a loss of innocent lives.
A certain controversy regarding Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath comes to mind from 2018 when he went to meet the bereaved and agitating families of the 13 children in Kusinagar who had died in a car-crash due to the driver's alleged negligence. The saffron-clad CM had faced a lot of flak, especially on social media after he allegedly asked the agitating kin to 'stop doing drama' upon meeting them.
But politicians are not the only ones with tone-deaf tongues.
Bollywood celebrities such as singer Abhijeet Bhattacharya proved their loyalties to Salman Khan in return for 15-minutes of air-time when they came out in support for their 'Bhai' and blamed the pedestrians that had been run over by his car in 2002 for their own deaths. "Come out fraternity, support @BeingSalmanKhan boldly not hypocritically. Roads footpath r (are) not meant 4 (for) sleeping, not driver's or alcohol's fault," Abhijeet had tweeted at the time. "Roads are meant for cars and dogs not for people sleeping on them.. @BeingSalmanKhan is not at fault at all."
If that gave you deja-vu, then same-pinch.
People in power or having access to those in power often appear absolved of everyday civility and decency if it helps them to peddle their own politics or popularity or that of the powerful people they endorse. The tendency to blame victims for transport or construction related tragedies is not just a trope used by politicians to defer blame but an actual reason cited by authorities.
For instance, the office of the Chief Commissioner of Railway Safety (CCRS) commissioned a report following the 2018 Amritsar train tragedy that left 68 dead, which concluded that crowding pedestrians on Dusshehra Mela had caused the accident. To incompetent authorities that usually do not have the right answers, offence is the best defence.
Such disdain for victims is perhaps the most evident in the case of military casualties. While certain attacks such as the Pulwama convoy attack that killed 40 soldiers recently are glorified for political gains, not all deaths receive the same honour.
In January 2018, when five Central Reserve Police Force men had died, ironically in Pulwama itself, due to a terror attack, a BJP lawmaker had appalled a country in mourning by stating the obvious yet tasteless reality. "Soldiers will die every day. Which country with an army does not have soldiers dying during fights?" asked BJP lawmaker Nepal Singh.
The reason why people in power constantly keep spouting tone-deaf proclamations may lie in the low level of accountability parties and even voters expect from their politicians and public representatives. Someone says something outrageous, critics slam them on social media, a news-outlet or two join the trade to milk some TRPs and life goes on till the next remark. Sanju Verma's visible agitation at being questioned on live TV by the host proves how little these representatives expect to be opposed, especially by journalists.
It's not @Sanju_Verma_'s fault. She blamed pedestrians in order to save the govt from responsibility. And she thought @navikakumar would support her. But for once, Navika surprised everyone.#MumbaiBridgeCollapse — Punster® (@Pun_Starr) March 15, 2019
Meanwhile, the actual investigation to identify responsibility in the case has gathered steam with Mumbai Police submitting its first report into the investigation. According to the report, maintenance of the bridge was BMC's responsibility. The firm that cleared the audit report for the bridge in 2018 is currently being investigated. Questions like why an 'under repairs' over-bridge was open for use in the first place, still remain.
The top brass in Sena is yet to react on the issue. This is the third incident of a bridge collapsing in Mumbai inthe past 18 months.