Making their tragedy all about us: India's biggest mistake in Nepal

Let's face it. Operation Maitri has not been quite the success story we thought it would be.

Things have changed a great deal from the grand beginnings of India's mercy mission to Nepal, when aid and relief personnel were rushed into the country within hours of the 7.9 magnitude earthquake. At the time, the sense of self congratulation was hard to miss.

So pleased was India with it's own awesomeness, that somehow this became the story. Take social media. On Twitter, thanking our own Prime Minister became more important than commiserating with the tens of thousands of Nepalis who had been left destitute and bereaved by the quake. Mainstream media fed the sentiment. Somehow a natural disaster that struck our neighour became a moment of jingoistic self congratulation.

Indian rescuers help a survivor to safety: Reuters

Indian rescuers help a survivor to safety: Reuters

Little wonder then, that we were left so stunned by the anger of the Nepalis themselves, who made the hashtag #GoHomeIndianMedia trend worldwide, ironically on press freedom day.

And when the Nepali government asked rescue personnel to move out of the country, that also became about us.

So much so in fact, that the Nepali ambassador to India, Deep Kumar Upadhya, had to clarify that the decision had not been prompted out of anger against India and had to specifically thank the country for all its help.

"We have to thank the Indian government since within 6-7 hours of time, a flight reached Kathmandu with all the necessary equipment. It helped many people survive," he was quoted as saying by PTI in what was an obvious tactic to settle the ruffled feathers of Big Brother.

He also asked the media to take the situation very positively and added that rescue work in Nepal was about to be completed.

Every single Indian media headline that covered the news of the withdrawal of rescue personnel after that, was framed in a manner that showed Nepal's thankfulness to India.

And while Nepal does indeed, have reason to be grateful to India - and they have said that they are, time and time again - there are reports that our mercy mission was not quite the success we have imagined it to be.

An article in Telegraph Nepal says, "More than one thousand relief workers and helicopters filled with emergency relief materials have arrived Nepal. Referring to a Nepal Army Source writes Adhikari for Kantipur, the search and rescue operation (considering the size of their team) has not been satisfactory. The Nepali side is not happy with their performance as there has been much hype to their support than substance."

It added that, "The Nepali side is of the view that since the Indian rescue team is only focused on providing relief to their own people their performance has not been satisfactory."

Other reports claimed that unfamiliar with the terrain, Indian choppers ended up flying too close to the Chinese border.

However, the Nepali army chief had told media that he had no reason to be unhappy with the coordination of foreign relief aid.

Speaking to the Kathmandu Post, he said "given the size of the earthquake, and the logistics involved in the subsequent relief operations, coordination was always going to be difficult", adding that "If we have decided to seek international assistance, we can't afford to be too demanding".

And he is right, of course. India's intentions in sending relief to Nepal cannot and should not be doubted. Neither can the value of the help extended by the armed forces.

However, given the self congratulatory tone and back patting that Indian media and social media indulged in after the tragedy, one cannot also blame the Nepalis for pointing out that not everything was as wonderful as India claimed it to be.

As pointed out by Firstpost senior editor G Pramod Kumar in this article, the problem is really that Nepal doesn't want to be condescended to by India:

"What the latest twitter fiasco exposes is India’s inability to understand that nationalism, particularly when one is low on confidence, trumps every other emotion even if Modi reiterates that Nepal’s pain is India’s too...Nepal wants our help, but more than that, it wants to be treated as an equal."

The lesson out of all this is a complex one. India needs to keep helping and extending aid. But it needs to lose the self congratulatory jingoism that comes with it. And more than anyone, its very Indian who needs to learn it.


Updated Date: May 05, 2015 12:41 PM

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