The Narendra Modi government on Tuesday strongly rebuffed the Opposition’s charge about delayed evacuation process in Ukraine, blaming the students for not paying heed to the advisories and the complexities of the war zone for the problems they faced.
Participating in a debate in the Lok Sabha, Union minister V.K. Singh said: “We lay greater emphasis on media reports, not facts. Whatever best was possible was done by the government. There was no delay. The problem is that Indians have this tendency of acting till the crisis snowballs. Students didn’t pay heed to the advisories. University authorities also misled them.”
The Indian embassy on February 15 issued its first advisory asking Indians living in Ukraine to consider leaving the country as the shadow of a possible war loomed over the former Soviet Union republic. The US had issued the first advisory on January 23. Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.
Contesting allegations of misbehaviour with students, Singh said: “We don’t have the habit of standing in queue and maintaining discipline. We have found out that the police misbehaved with only those students who pushed around elders.”
Videos of Indian students being beaten up by the police on the Ukraine border had gone viral last month.
Minister Hardeep Puri lamented that the Opposition played politics during the national crisis. Claiming that Operation Ganga to evacuate the students was one of the most well-coordinated and successful in the world, Puri said: “Evacuating 18,500 students was not an easy task.”
Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia explained how the Prime Minister took charge himself to make the operation successful.
The Opposition members largely commended the government’s efforts, making mild criticism of the evacuation process, which was certainly not reflective of the anguish, frustration and struggle of thousands of students.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor expressed admiration for the government’s efforts while arguing that some other nations were quicker in evacuating their citizens. “The government was very quick in making arrangements in the neighbouring countries but students faced difficulties in getting to the borders,” he said.
Referring to the “unseemly publicity mongering” by ministers, Tharoor pointed out that the government didn’t mention the principles at the United Nations that India stood for, criticising the “shameful even-handedness between the aggressor and the victim”.
He also wondered why a good friend, that Russia is, could not be told of their wrongdoing. Referring to the strategic vulnerabilities in the tough neighbourhood, he asked the government about the implications of Russia-China-Pakistan axis.
Tharoor warned against China getting an upper hand in the region if Russia became weaker after this conflict. He also said we had to take a stand at times as sitting on the fence was always not the best option. He asked why India couldn’t play a bigger role by mediating between Russia and Ukraine.
Farooq Abdullah described the United Nations as a failed institution while praising Jawaharlal Nehru’s foreign policy.
Congress MP Manish Tewari hailed India’s cautious position vis-à-vis Russia but warned the government against intensifying US pressure in near future because this new iron curtain had the potential of dividing the world.
He also hailed Nehru’s foreign policy of non-alignment that helped India for decades but admitted that the luxury of neutrality might not be available to the country now. He too said the self-defeating spectacle of students being forced to chant slogans was avoidable.
Congress leader Adhir Chowdhury said the government failed to show a sense of urgency in the beginning and tried to take credit for the evacuation even as it was their duty.
NCP leader Supriya Sule also referred to Nehru’s foresight in foreign policy and criticised the jingoism and PR stunts of the ministers involved in the evacuation process.