Flood-hit Chennai resumes business

Flood victims in Chennai receiving food distributed by Indian navy personnel on Saturday. Commercial flights from the city restarted yesterday. Banks opened yesterday to aid residents left without food, power and access to money as cash dispensers ha
Flood victims in Chennai receiving food distributed by Indian navy personnel on Saturday. Commercial flights from the city restarted yesterday. Banks opened yesterday to aid residents left without food, power and access to money as cash dispensers have been emptied or lost power due to outages.PHOTO: REUTERS

450 rain-related deaths in Tamil Nadu state; backlash against chief minister and PM Modi

CHENNAI • Commercial flights restarted from Chennai yesterday after being suspended since Wednesday as the southern Indian city struggled to limp back to normalcy from its worst deluge in a century.

A threefold increase in seasonal rainfall led to overflowing lakes and reservoirs wreaking havoc across a vast swathe of the metropolis of nine million people and its surrounding areas. The Times of India reported 450 rain-related deaths across the state of Tamil Nadu as of Saturday, and the toll is expected to rise.

More than 28,000 people have been rescued by the National Disaster Response Force and Indian armed forces, according to a government statement on Saturday.

The rainfall has weakened since Friday and flood waters are receding, according to the statement. Power has been restored in more than 90 per cent of India's fourth- largest city. Road connectivity has been restored and city bus service is functioning, while train services will start normal operations from today, according to the statement.

India's banks were working yesterday to aid residents left without food, power and access to money in the city and surrounding areas as cash dispensers have been emptied or lost power due to outages.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, one of India's most powerful politicians and a former movie star called "Amma" or "Mother" by her followers, is being heckled and abused for going missing after the floods swept the state capital.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi isn't spared either. He at first drew nods of approval when he rushed to Chennai last week, promising to stand by its people. Yet, within hours, he became the object of mockery on social media after his press office released a doctored photo of him inspecting flood damage.

For both him and Ms Jayalalithaa, the image of strong leadership created by their publicity machines was undermined. Until the floods that ravaged the city, the lofty remoteness of Ms Jayalalithaa added to the aura around a leader with an almost hysterical following.

Now, she faces a backlash from residents fed up with the sight of her image on billboards, aid packets and her own Jaya Plus TV channel.

She has been since in public only twice during the crisis - once with Mr Modi. Angry youths heckled a state minister and officials in Ms Jayalalithaa's north Chennai constituency, where people were sitting on the roadside amid sludge and mountains of garbage, their shanties swept away by the worst rains in a century. "Forget about Amma coming here, there was no sign of the party cadres," said one of them.

There was further revulsion after a party legislator put up a poster of her lifting a baby above the flood waters in a scene from a movie.

Adding to the anger were reports on social media from volunteers engaged in flood relief operations about members of the ruling party harassing and forcing them to stick pictures of Ms Jayalalithaa on the relief material, reported The Hindu.

Mr Modi's own promise to voters of good days to come for India is also starting to face disenchantment, with key reforms stalled by bureaucratic inertia and political gridlock.

Ambitious initiatives, such as a "Clean India" campaign, have made little headway.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 07, 2015, with the headline 'Flood-hit Chennai resumes business'. Print Edition | Subscribe