With a larger and more diverse pool of Indian citizens residing or traveling abroad and the Indian Diaspora becoming famous for contributing economically and politically to India’s strength and international reputation, their safety and security in the countries where they reside becomes the moral responsibility of the Government of India. This is particularly so when the Diaspora find the country of their residence coming under natural calamities or man-made disasters like terrorism and war. Evacuating them to safety and bringing them home then becomes a big challenge for the Government of India.
We are witnessing the above phenomenon in war-torn Ukraine today. In Ukraine, there are about 20,000 Indian students. Before Russia invaded Ukraine, India had issued three advisories to those students to leave the country. But, it seems that these advisories were not heeded much. Be that as it may, over the last one week of invasion, 12000 Indians, nearly 60 percent of our people in that country, have been facilitated to leave Ukraine. Of the remaining 40%, roughly half remain in the conflict zone in the Kharkiv -Sumy area and the other half have either reached the western borders of Ukraine or are heading towards the western borders of Ukraine. In other words, they are generally out of the conflict areas, out of harm’s way. But the Indian government is trying to bring them home.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has talked to Presidents of Russia and Ukraine to facilitate the evacuation and safe passage of the stranded Indians. He has also spoken to his counterparts in Romania and Slovak republic that border Ukraine. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla are spending sleepless nights in talking to their counterparts not only in these two warring countries but also their neighbors like Romania, Slovak Republic, Hungary, Moldova and Poland where Indians are allowed to go before being brought home through special flights.
India has already sent a team of officers from its mission in Moscow to the border region of Russia, adjoining Ukraine. This team is currently in a city called Belgorod, which is not far from Kharkiv. The function of the team is to examine all the options in terms of accommodation for our people and the transportation options.
The Indian diplomatic mission in Kiev is issuing advisory from time to time for the stranded on how to leave the country. It is now understood that all the Indians living in the Ukrainian capital have left. Those stranded are in the cities near the bordering countries. As it is, Prime Minister Modi has sent four senior cabinet ministers and special envoys to each of these countries and they are already either on their way or in place and of course, these teams that are there will also supplement all of these efforts that are on the way to assist our citizens in crossing over, their stay and facilitation in the countries concerned until we can get them on a flight back home.
As many as 26 flights have been scheduled to bring out Indian citizens, apart from Bucharest and Budapest. Airports in Poland and the Slovak Republic will also be used. The government is ready to mount as many flights as required. A C17 Indian Air Force aircraft is also flown to Romania where it would also bring back and repatriate our citizens who are there. More Indian Air Force flights are proposed to bring back our citizens.
Of course, India has a great record in evacuating its people from foreign countries during crises. In 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, India had successfully repatriated over 1,70,000 of those stranded in the region.
After Modi became Prime Minister, the evacuation-process in such crisis situations has been further systematized. When in 2015, a conflict raged between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels, India under Operation Raahat rescued about 4,640 Indians stranded in Yemen, along with 960 foreign nationals from more than 41 countries, through its Naval ships. Under Operation Maitri, India, in 2015, brought back 5,000 Indians from the quake-hit Nepal by Air Force and civilian planes. In the process it also evacuated 170 foreign nationals from the US, the UK, Russia and Germany. Operation Samudra Setu was was a naval operation launched on May 5, 2020 as part of the national effort to bring home Indian citizens from overseas during the COVID-19 pandemic. It successfully brought back 3,992 Indian citizens to their homeland by sea.
The Modi-government is showing the same dedication as shown during the above crises in evacuating the Indians from Ukraine in what is known as Operation Ganga. In this task, there is no doubt that the Prime Minister’s global standing has played an important role. And, as he rightly says, it is possible because of the enhanced profile of a Rising India.