India is in Nepal to offer relief, not just evacuate stranded Indians

The narrative in India’s ongoing relief, rescue, rehabilitation and evacuation efforts in the quake-hit Nepal under “Operation Maitri” has suddenly changed – and changed for worse.

Why is the Indian media focusing on the evacuation aspects only of OP Maitri? The very objective of Indian efforts in Nepal has been lost due to the focus on evacuation – and that too of Indians “stranded” in Nepal.

 India is in Nepal to offer relief, not just evacuate stranded Indians

Representational image. AFP

The Kathmandu airport reopened today (Monday) but the problem is acute congestion as there are too many incoming and outgoing flights.

True, Indian Air Force’s IL-76 planes are bringing back stranded Indians from Nepal to India as it means putting IAF’s assets to better use. The transport planes drop relief materials in Kathmandu and bring stranded people back to India instead of flying empty. But that's not all of it.

Indian operation in Nepal is radically different from its operations in Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Syria or Ukraine. In all those countries the focus was on evacuation of Indian nationals stranded there.

India had not gone to the above-mentioned countries for relief, rescue and rehabilitation of the local people.

In Nepal, the situation is far more complex. Operation Maitri is all about relief, rescue, rehabilitation and evacuation of not only the local Nepalese or other foreign nationals, including Indians, affected by the earthquake but its major component also happens to be evacuation of stranded Indians.

Therefore, the Indian efforts should be gauged from the perspective of all the factors mentioned above, not just evacuation of Indians.

India is in a delicate situation in this context. While it has to reach out to the Nepalese in their hour of crisis, it simultaneously also has to accord highest priority to the Indians’ interests. So far a total of 5400 Indians have been safely brought from Nepal to India, 2100 of them by air.

Indian evacuation efforts in other countries, particularly Yemen, have been lauded internationally. But Nepal is a different ball game and far more delicate from Indian government’s point of view. It is a long haul, much longer than whatever the Modi government has experienced so far.

Relief and rehabilitation of quake-hit Nepal is going to take months and perhaps years and it is going to be a very expensive affair. The US Geological Survey has estimated that the total damage could cost anywhere between $100 million to $10 billion, an astronomical sum for a country like Nepal where the per capita income is a meagre $62.50 per month.

While India’s recent evacuation operations in other countries like Yemen, Iraq, Ukraine etc were driven by the need to extend a helping hand to stranded Indians in those countries and minimise loss of Indian lives by timely evacuation, Nepal is a completely different process.

At the core of Indian humanitarian diplomacy vis-a-vis Nepal is the all-important strategic aspects of India’s Nepal diplomacy.

China too has stepped in with aid and relief for the Nepalese and so has Pakistan. Western powers like the US, UK, Canada and European Union too have sent aid to Nepal worth millions of dollars.

But the Indian responsibilities in Nepal are going to last much longer than those of Western powers or even China and Pakistan. The Nepalese people will know after a few months the importance of having a friendly neighbour like India.

The Indian government has thus far acted with alacrity, responsibly and magnanimously. India should be prepared for spending far more in Nepal what all other foreign powers put together have done thus far.

India’s Nepal quake relief bill will easily cross a billion dollars in a few months from now. But this is the minimum India can do for a country with which it shares 1751-km-long open border.

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Updated Date: Apr 28, 2015 08:43:14 IST