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How Congress govt handled evacuation from Libya: As Congress plays politics over Ukraine crisis, here is how Indian lives were endangered

While Congress is claiming that Manmohan Singh govt's evacuation of Indians from Libya was better than current evacuation from Ukraine, the UPA govt was criticised widely for being very slow and late in the evacuation

On February 24, Russia launched a full-scale invasion in Ukraine, months after deploying over 1 lakh security forces at the border. When the Indian government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, vowed to evacuate every Indian from the war-torn country, the Opposition Congress party began casting aspersions about its efficiency.

Instead of extending support to the government of the day in evacuating stranded Indians, the Congress party saw the geo-political conflict as a ‘political opportunity.’ It tried to create hysteria by highlighting isolated cases of inconvenience caused to a handful of stranded Indian students.

The grand-old party also used these isolated cases to peddle the narrative that the government has not been catering to the needs of the students. Significantly, it attempted to undermine the government’s initiative as a ‘Public Relations (PR) stunt’.

Congress pits India’s evacuation mission in Ukraine against Libya

The Congress party envied the ‘personal involvement’ of Ministers in the evacuation process in Ukraine and began drawing ‘superfluous’ analogies with the mission conducted by the then UPA government in Libya in 2011.

On February 26, Congress leader Manickam Tagore tweeted, “In 2011, Dr Singh Sarkar evacuated 15,400 Indians out of war zone in Libya. This was done by Congress Government not only for Indians but for Nepalis & Bangladeshis as well. But sadly today Sehenshah is busy buying Rs 8600 Crore plane for private entourage.”

Screengrab of the tweet by Manickam Tagore

On the following day, the Kerala unit of the Congress claimed that Manmohan Singh’s government repatriated 16000 Indians from a war zone in Libya without creating ‘any fuss.’ It remarked, “Last night, minister Piyush Goyal was on TV with 210 Indian students returning from Ukraine saying how concerned Modiji was, to get the reply Thank you, Modiji #IndiansInUkraine”

Screengrab of the tweet by Kerala Congress

On February 28, prominent Congress leader Renuka Chowdhury also credited Dr Manmohan Singh for evacuating 18000 Indians from Libya in 2011 without any ‘Hungama‘.

Screengrab of the tweet by Renuka Chowdhury

Congress scion Rahul Gandhi went on to politicise the tragic death of Naveen Shekharappa in Ukraine on March 1 to allege that the Indian government had no ‘strategic plans’ for the speedy evacuation of Indian nationals.

Screengrab of the tweets by Rahul Gandhi

UPA-era evacuation of Indians from Libya was slower than China

While Congress scion Rahul Gandhi had been asking the Modi government to ‘expedite’ the evacuation of Indian nationals from Ukraine, other party leaders had been browbeating about India’s evacuation mission in Libya in 2011. Ironically, the then Congress government was criticised for being ‘slow’ in evacuating Indians from the North African country.

As per a report in Reuters, the Indian government fell behind other countries including such as China and the United States in successfully repatriating its citizens. Until March 1, 2011, India had evacuated only 4,500 nationals while China had evacuated 32,000 of its citizens. The US government had by then almost completed the rescue operation.

Dubbed the ‘Operation Safe Homecoming’, the Congress-led-Indian government had a mammoth task of evacuating 18000 Indian nationals, who worked in the health, oil and construction sectors.

Screengrab of the news report by Reuters

Out of Libya India crawls, the rest are safe at home,’ the Indian Express said, adding India remained the only major country with thousands of nationals stranded there,” reported Reuters.

When the then Indian government under Manmohan Singh faced the ire of the public for being ‘slower’ than China, Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao had infamously remarked, “We are not in competition with China here. We’re focused on the task of bringing back our people safe and sound. Please let’s not devalue this.”

In contrast, China began evacuating its nationals from Ukraine on February 28, 2022, whereas the first Air India flight carrying 219 Indian nationals reached the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport in Mumbai from Bucharest on February 26 evening.

Congress had faced the wrath of political partners over ‘slow’ evacuation from Libya

“Members in the Rajya Sabha today expressed anguish over slow progress in the evacuation and safety of Indians stranded in Libya,” read a report by Indian Express, dated March 4, 2011.

Deputy Chairman K Rahman Khan saw to it that the Congress government re-assured the Upper House about its evacuation plans. “The whole country is concerned about our people who are suffering. There is a concern over slowness (in bringing them back),” he remarked.

Screengrab of the news report by Indian Express

Similarly, Congress ally and DMK legislator Tiruchi Siva also sought answers from the Manmohan Singh-led government. He lashed out at Khan, “Our people are stranded. You (Chair) are bothered about time. You are not permitting to express our views”

Siva pointed out that China and Philipines were way ahead of India in evacuating their citizens. “Why is the progress slow on the Indian side,” the DMK MP had asked. Questions were also raised against the then government for lack of monitoring of the situation in conflict-torn Libya.

Operation Ganga: Modi government’s daunting mission to evacuate Indians from Ukraine

On February 15 this year, the Indian embassy in Ukraine had issued its first advisory, urging Indian nationals to immediately evacuate the country in the run-up to the full-fledged war. 

Despite multiple advisories by the government, an estimated 16000-20000 Indian nationals remained in the Eastern European country. Thereafter, the Modi government launched an evacuation mission named ‘Operation Ganga’ to bring them back to India via chartered flights from Poland, Romania, and Hungary.

It must be mentioned that the Ukrainian airspace was closed for civilian aircraft from February 24 morning onwards. As such, the Indian embassy in Ukraine had to coordinate with the embassies of neighbouring countries in Poland, Romania and Hungary for the creation of safe evacuation channels.

Under ‘Operation Ganga’, Indians are first taken in batches from Ukraine to bordering countries (currently Hungary and Romania) via buses/commute arranged by the embassy. They are then airlifted to Delhi or Mumbai through chartered Air India flights.

The Indian government has sent its 4 Union Ministers, namely, Hardeep Singh Puri, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Kiren Rijiju and General (Retd) VK Singh to Hungary, Romania and Moldova, Slovakia, and Poland respectively, to coordinate the evacuation mission.

According to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Arindam Bagchi, a total of 18000 Indians had been moved out of Ukraine between February 15 and March 2. “30 flights under Operation Ganga have brought back 6,400 Indians from Ukraine so far,” he informed during a press briefing on Thursday (March 3).

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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Dibakar Dutta
Dibakar Dutta
Centre-Right. Political analyst. Assistant Editor @Opindia. Reach me at [email protected]

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