India’s Helping HandApril 08, 2015
A decade ago none would have believed that the US of all countries would ask its citizens to avail of India’s offer to rescue them from a region hit by civil war. The Indian offer is not just an acknowledgment of its burgeoning strategic transportation capability which is still a fraction of American prowess. It is also a tribute to New Delhi’s diplomatic acumen and perception of being a benign state that enabled it to assist America in evacuating its people from Yemen. Washington had to close its embassy in Sana’a whereas India pulled the right strings for its warships to sail into ports being contested by armed partisans and planes to land on a damaged airstrip.
As of now 26 countries, as diverse as Cuba, Indonesia and the Netherlands, have requested India to help their citizens caught in the civil war between the Houthis of Yemen and a 10-nation alliance that wants to see the President of Yemen, now in asylum in Riyadh, back in Sana’a. Thanks to the social media, the current Indian endeavour to evacuate its citizens is being projected as the first-ever effort in this direction. For the record, the biggest-ever repatriation was of 1.75 lakh Indians from Iraq in 1990-91. But it required a dharna by MPs from Kerala in front of Parliament House to goad the government into action.
Over the past 15 years, Iraq was followed by operations in other countries but Yemen will rank as the smoothest-ever evacuation. This was due to the efforts by successive governments to modernise India’s defence services after the Kargil war. The Navy now operates on anti-piracy missions near the troubled North Africa-West Asia region and the venerable IL-76 has been supplemented by American C-17 and C-130 J military transport aircraft. Apart from India’s profile that makes the presence of its ships and aircraft acceptable in a civil war, frequent simulation of disaster preparedness and Air India’s unquestioning participation has provided the expanding diaspora confidence in the ability of the Indian state to help them in times of distress.