There cannot be a bigger irony. As the nation was preparing to smugly display its military might and scientific prowess on Republic Day, a mighty earthquake flattened a large part of Gujarat. The quake, however, did not quite shake the ruling elite, who till afternoon participated in the long ceremonial parade, even as the death count continued to rise by the minute. A cabinet meeting was called at 5.30 pm , eight hours after the tragedy had struck. The extent and magnitude of the catastrophe had still not dawned on the powers that be. So much for a nuclear India coming to grips with a natural disaster that had struck a state that has a sizeable military presence. And this was just the beginning.
As relief started pouring in, Indian bureaucracy was in its true element: slack, corrupt and incompetent. A low-ranking babu's signature was what was needed to download relief material from a plane waiting in Ahmedabad. But the bureaucrat was sleeping in his house, with his mobile switched off. A foreign rescue team had to wait at the Delhi airport for a frustrating 48 hours before they could get an approval from the home ministry. With crucial time being wasted, the body count made this earthquake the worst since India's independence. Above 100,000 dead, according to George Fernandes, Union defence minister.