Dr Vijay Chauthaiwale
Operation Ganga has been one of India’s largest evacuation drives of bringing back Indians who are stranded in foreign nation after operation ‘Devi Shakti’ which was launched by the Narendra Modi government when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 2020. India evacuated around 22,500 Indian nationals from the war hit Ukraine safely which is a commendable task. India not only was successful in evacuating Indian citizens through Operation Ganga but also helped citizens of neighbouring countries like Nepal and Bangladesh reach their countries safely. India successfully evacuated its nationals from Romania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Moldova where the Indians had reached through road and rail transit in Ukraine.
“To ensure necessary communication between the Indian citizens and the government of India, Ministry of External Affairs formed 24×7 control centres. Every enquiry received was verified in the database and the necessary relief plan was communicated”
The evacuation process started in Feb 2022 and by 10th March, the stranded Indians were evacuated using 80 flights. Initially civil airlines were used for the evacuation process but as the situation aggravated Indian Air Force was brought into action. Civil airlines could not lift big number of people and therefore to ease the process IAF was involved. The C-17 Globemaster with a capacity of carrying 400 passengers not only brought back the people from Ukraine to India but also transported humanitarian aid like food, fuel, medical supplies, and other essentials to Ukraine.
India on many instances earlier has proved to be a country which stands with its citizens living in other countries. Earlier in 1990, India’s first evacuation process in which over 1,70,000 Indians were airlifted and repatriated to India from Kuwait.
Operation Sukoon in 2006 evacuated 2,280 people including Sri Lankan and Nepalese nationals during the Lebanon and Israel conflict. Operation safe homecoming in 2011 ensured safe evacuation of around 15,400 Indian nationals from conflict torn Libya. Under the leadership of Shri Narendra Modi such operations have been applauded at international level. In 2015 India undertook Operation Raahat to evacuate thousands of Indians from other countries during the conflict between the Yemen and Houthi rebels. In 2016, 242 Indians including 28 crew members were successfully airlifted from Brussels during terrorist strikes.
Operation Samudra Setu was launched during Covid breakout in 2020 to bring 3992 citizens back to India through sea route. Vande Bharat mission was launched in 2020 to evacuate Indians from Covid hit countries and succeeded in evacuating more than 60 lakh Indians in multiple phases. In the case of Operation Ganga in Ukraine, around 80 flights were used to bring the Indians back home and about 46 of these were private airlines. Out of these airlines 29 were involved in rescue operations in Bucharest Romania, 10 in Budapest Hungary, six in Rzeszow Poland, and one in Kocise Slovakia. All the citizens were evacuated free of cost from the neighbouring countries of Ukraine which is expected to cost Rs 66-70 crore per flight for a two-way operation to Indian government.
To ensure necessary communication between the Indian citizens and the government of India, Ministry of External Affairs formed 24×7 control centres. Every enquiry received was verified in the database and the necessary relief plan was communicated. India’s foreign diplomacy played a key role as the neighbouring countries in eastern Europe provided the required help to Indian nationals, For example, Poland waived documentation requirements necessary to enter Poland.
Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi took the evacuation of Indians as top priority as soon as the tensions between the two neighbour countries intensified. He monitored the entire situation through series of high-level meetings conducted involving the ministers, bureaucrats, Indian embassies and governments of several neighbouring countries. To fasten the process and to provide the required support to the Indian nationals four Indian cabinet ministers also reached to the countries surrounding Ukraine. Notably, Union Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia was sent to Romania, Union Minister of Law and Justice, Kiren Rijiju to the Slovak Republic, Union Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Hardeep Singh Puri to Hungary and Minister of State for Civil Aviation General (Retd) VK Singh to Poland as special envoys under Operation Ganga.
As the conflict intensified the real challenge was evacuating those Indians who are stuck in eastern Ukraine. India in its discussions with Ukraine and Russia had suggested for creation of humanitarian passages in order to facilitate people move away from the war zones. Things became complicated as the airspace of Ukraine was closed and hence the evacuation directly from the cities like Kiev and Kharkiv became impossible. Therefore, advisories were issued suggesting the people to move to the nearest borders from where they could connect with the Indian officials. There were many instances when Prime minister Shri Narendra Modi himself spoke to the Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for ceasefire to evacuate Indians from the war hit region safely. For example, 694 students who were stranded in Sumi were able to move to Poltava through humanitarian corridors created for the safe passage of Indians after Shri Narendra Modi’s discussions with his counterparts.
A major role was also played by the NGOs who volunteered to provide necessary support in the evacuation process. Organisations like Sewa international, International society of Krishna consciousness (ISKCON), Art Of Living, BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, several Gurudwaras, Hindu temples in neighbouring countries like Poland and Hungary provided shelter and food to the people who were effected by the conflict. Prayers were offered in many temples throughout the world for the people who lost their lives and also prayers were offered for an early closure of the war.
India’s strategic neutrality during the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has been appreciated globally. India condemned the violence and provided the necessary humanitarian aid to Ukraine. By not taking any side and negotiating with both the countries for the safe movement of the common people speak volumes about the global diplomacy that India has achieved in recent years. Whether it be the
“India’s strategic neutrality during the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has been appreciated globally. India condemned the violence and provided the necessary humanitarian aid to Ukraine. By not taking any side and negotiating with both the countries for the safe movement of the common people speak volumes about the global diplomacy that India has achieved in recent years”
evacuation during the Nepal earthquake in 2015 or the Ukraine crisis of 2022, India through several operations has not just successfully evacuated its citizens but has also helped people of other nationalities in reaching safer regions. India being the country with highest diaspora spread across the world will continue to face such situations in future as well and the success of Operation Ganga builds confidence among the Indians that no matter where they are their safety remains the prime priority for the Indian government. India under the leadership of Shri Narendra Modi has developed an image as a friendly nation which will always stand by its diaspora and also help the people of other nations during a crisis situation. Stake holders involved in this operation the Government of India, Officials involved, Airline companies and staff, Indian air force and the people and their families who supported and followed the procedures patiently, all of them should be credited for a smooth accomplishment of such a crucial operation.
(The Writer is In-Charge, Department of Foreign Affairs, BJP)