The National Disaster Response Force or NDRF is caught in a political crossfire between the BJP, which heads the government at the Centre and the Janata Dal (United) which rules Bihar, where 33 people died on Friday evening in a stampede at Patna’s Gandhi Maidan.
On Sunday, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had alleged in Delhi that the Centre had rushed the NDRF, a central agency, soon after the stampede, but the Bihar government refused their help.
The Bihar government has contested that and has, in fact, shot off a strongly-worded letter to the NDRF seeking to know why it did not turn up on time at the Patna Medical College Hospital or PMCH where victims of the stampede on Dussehra were rushed.
Principal Secretary for the Disaster Management Department, Vyas Ji, said that his department had called the commandant of the local NDRF unit – stationed in Bihta, about 40 kilometres from Patna – at about 8.45 pm on Friday evening, less than two hours after the stampede, but no one arrived till midnight.
NDRF officials confirmed that they had received a call from the state government and claimed that a team set off for Patna immediately, but reached hours later as it was stuck in a massive traffic jam.
The NDRF has also sought to explain that it had no role, as all those injured were taken to hospital soon after the tragedy and there was no one else that needed rescue. A senior NDRF officer also pointed out that maintaining law and order is not the agency’s mandate.
Till last year, the BJP was part of the Bihar government as an ally of the Janata Dal (United). It was unceremoniously dumped by then chief minister Nitish Kumar owing to the rise in the BJP of his arch political rival Narendra Modi. In the national elections this year, the BJP won 31 of Bihar’s 40 Lok Sabha seats in a spectacular victory and Mr. Modi took over as Prime Minister. Mr. Kumar stepped down the next day and Jitan Ram Manjhi became the chief minister.
In recently held by-elections, the Janata Dal (United) partnered with Lalu Prasad Yadav and the Congress to win six of the 10 seats.