Chidambaram shows the right way to handle a crisis

A hands-on approach brings sanity in the time of chaos

prasanna

Prasanna Mohanty | July 14, 2011


Home minister P Chidambaram at a press conference in Mumbai on Thursday
Home minister P Chidambaram at a press conference in Mumbai on Thursday

Wind back to the two train accidents of last Sunday in UP and Assam, which left more than 100 dead and many more injured. There was chaos all around. Nobody seemed to be in charge. The UP accident happened in the morning but one of the three ministers of state for railways, Mukul Roy, could be located in Kolkata only in the evening.

Roy’s response was, "I am not the railway minister but only a minister of state and that the prime minister was the railway minister. I am 1,000 km away from the accident site and will go to the site only if the prime minister asks me to."

The next day he was asked by the prime minister to rush to the accident site in Assam, the news about which had come Sunday morning. He refused, saying that the tracks had been cleared and he had little to do there. He, instead, went to Jangalmahal to give company to Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who was to address a public rally there.

The newspapers reflected the chaos on Monday morning. Each one carried different figures about the dead and the injured and was clueless about the reasons for the accident (we still are).

Take a look at the blasts in Mumbai last evening.

Home minister P Chidambaram was ready at hand to tell reporters in New Delhi what had happened and what was being done to manage the chaos and the crisis. He declared that the media would be briefed every two hours. The Mumbai police commissioner had, by then, reached the spot and refused to speculate on anything, whether about the dead and injured or who were responsible. His account was a matter-of-fact, just as was the case with Chidambaram.

The home minister then rushed to Mumbai, visited the spots, met the injured and by 9.30 am next morning (that is today), he was before the media giving once again a matter-of-fact account of the incident, not willing to speculate. He was presumably wearing the same dress in which he had addressed the media the previous night at 9 (remember how his predecessor had changed his dress thrice in matters of hours of the 26/11 strike in Mumbai in 2008?).

The hands-on approach had a visible impact on the security forces and the media. The nerves were calm. The facts and figures didn’t vary wildly. Nobody was wildly guessing except for passing mention of a suspicion on the Indian Mujahideen as the agent behind the blasts.

Mostly importantly, somebody was seemingly and visibly in charge of the situation and the crisis seemed so much more manageable without everyone going hysterical about it, which could have been the case had Chidambaram behaved the way the railway minister and the MoSs did after the train accidents.

This is not the first time Chidmbaram has shown how to handle a crisis and manage the affairs. He worked the same way while leading the fight against the Maoists in the past too.

If only rest of the ministers emulate his example, our crisis management would be that much better.

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