Focus Corner

Guardians of Hope: Modi’s Image Building Exercise and Reality

Navigating the Nexus Between Political Messaging and Humanitarian Imperatives

As elections in 2024 come closer, it is not surprising that the government wants to show Prime Minister Narendra Modi as someone who deeply cares about Indians. This includes Indians living in India or other countries. To create this impression, Anurag Thakur, the Minister of Information and Broadcasting, posted on the social media site X. He shared a video, too. The post says, “Jo Raksha Kare Saat Samundar Paar Voh Hai Hamara Parivar” (The one who protects us across seven seas is our family). Modi tries to project himself as the only man “saving Indians abroad in distress.

The video shows a girl from a war-torn country telling her worried parents, relieved, that she knew Modi would get them to safety. She added that he managed to “stop the war so their convoy could pass.” While claiming to stop a war seems like an overstatement, the government’s efforts to rescue Indians trapped in armed conflicts cannot be denied.

Legacy of Protection: Historical Precedents of Indian Diplomacy

There is no doubt the Modi government has done well in bringing back Indians caught in the middle of armed fights. However, it is important to note that caring for Indians abroad is not a new task. Previous governments have also negotiated with harsh rulers to protect the People of Indian Origin (PIOs) facing mistreatment in foreign lands.

Uganda Expulsion of People of Indian Origin, 1972
“Indian expatriates leaving Uganda following President Idi Amin’s expulsion order in 1972. Image Credit: The Hindu

A major example was in 1972 when Uganda’s President Idi Amin ordered PIOs to leave. Many PIOs had successful businesses and careers there. The Indian government strongly criticized Amin’s actions against the PIO community, whose property was seized. Diplomatic ties with Uganda were cut off, impacting the country after PIOs departed. Around 27,000 PIOs held British citizenship and went to Britain, while 4,500 returned to India.

Similarly in 1987, when Fiji’s military, led by Sitiveni Rabuka, staged a coup against the government due to substantial PIO participation, India took diplomatic action against Rabuka. India also helped reduce the suffering of Indians in Fiji and ensured the constitution protected their rights.

Challenges Faced: Gulf War and Libyan Crisis

Indian Citizens Airlifted During Gulf War Crisis
Indian citizens being airlifted from a conflict zone during the Gulf War crisis in 1990.”
Image Credit: Medium.com

Looking at non-Resident Indians (NRIs) trapped in conflict zones, one of the biggest challenges was during the Gulf War. In August 1990, when Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, Western countries led by the US demanded he withdraw. As war seemed inevitable, India had to get Iraq’s consent to evacuate its citizens. This required skilled diplomacy and planning for the airlifting of 170,000 Indians.

During the 2011 Libyan crisis, when Western powers attacked to remove dictator Muammar Gaddafi, government machinery collapsed. NRIs working in the oil-rich country needed evacuation. Following the ruling UPA government’s instructions, diplomats took action. Using Malta as a base, they safely brought back around 15,000 Indians from the conflict zone by air and sea.

Recent Efforts and Modi’s Involvement

During Modi’s time, Indians have been rescued from war zones in Yemen and Sudan through carefully planned operations. The government also successfully evacuated Indians when the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021 after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled shamefully.

The Ukraine operation stands out as a major achievement. When the Russia-Ukraine war began, around 23,000 Indian students were spread across Ukraine. First, authorities ensured students stayed secure where they were residing as the fighting continued.

To his credit, Modi took a personal interest in the rescue efforts and used enough political and diplomatic resources. He spoke to Russian and Ukrainian leaders about the welfare of Indians who needed safe evacuation. For convoys carrying students to reach neighboring countries, both sides agreed not to attack each other to prevent harm to the convoys.

Modi’s Response to Crisis and Image Projection

Families of Captured Indians Holding Photographs
Families of the captured Indians hold photographs, seeking information about their loved ones.” Image Credit: Hindustan Times

One setback was in 2014 when ISIS captured 39 Indians in Iraq. Modi’s government tried hard to find accurate information about their well-being. It rejected reports that they had been killed. Only when Iraqi forces liberated the ISIS-held area and found a mass grave were DNA tests done to confirm deaths.

As elections approach, the BJP will undoubtedly project Modi as a savior of the people. Anurag Thakur’s social media posts and videos indicate this strategy. However, it is vital to understand that caring for Indians abroad has always been essential for all Indian governments and diplomats.

Ensuring the safety and security of Indian nationals trapped in conflicts or facing discrimination in foreign countries is not something new started by Modi’s government. Instead, it is a longstanding duty that successive governments have fulfilled. They have achieved this by using diplomacy, logistics expertise, and a firm commitment to protect citizen interests regardless of location. While the current regime’s efforts are praiseworthy, it’s essential to acknowledge the consistent work of previous governments in this area. However, this acknowledgment should not portray it as an unprecedented achievement.

Rohit Sharma

Rohit Sharma is a seasoned Political Journalist with a deep passion for Indian Politics. With over a decade of experience in the field, he has established himself as a trusted… More »

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