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In the 1990s, the V.P. Singh Government took it up as a challenge to bring home to safety the over one-and-a-half lakh Indians stranded in refugee camps of Kuwait and Iraq. It would perhaps be one of the most extraordinary mission that any government in independent India had undertaken till date and one which need to be written into the annals of diplomacy.
The government completed what then seemed an impossible task of evacuating the over one-and-a-half lakh Non-Resident Indians within 59 days. When the government of the time completed the task at hand with great diplomatic tact and ingenuity, it didn’t even charge a single pie from those unfortunate compatriots.
One can’t but recall this event that happened three decades ago in the context of the criminal indifference shown by the National Democratic Front Government ruling India. That we witness such indifference when the government has to act on a war footing to bring home these stranded souls fighting a losing battle against Sars corona virus is quite unfortunate.
During the Gulf War, when Air India flew nearly 500 missions, the passengers were brought home on government expense.
It is true that the situation is different today given the spread of the pandemic across the borders. Still a political will to even attempt a similar evacuation is lacking. The government has been charging exorbitant amounts under various heads such as emigration fees from the NRIs. This fund is not being utilised for any cause and it in such urgent situations that such resources created by charging the NRIs under various heads for decades should be put to use.
The government needn’t extend any special discount to these NRIs. This mission can be completed by putting to use funds that have been charged from them. Indians in these countries were also forced to charter flights to reach home when there were Air India flights lying idle across the country.
Even allowing various airlines’ in the GCC countries to fly the Indian residents home would have speeded up matters. In the guise of evacuation flights, the government flew Vande Bharat flights charging exorbitant ticket fees from these unfortunate souls. Some of the nations did protest and just this week, the United States banned Air India from operating such flights.
Narendra Modi and S. Jaishankar are not showing even an iota of the generosity and political tact that V.P. Singh and I.K. Gujaral expressed during those trying times.
The Prime Minister visited even ordinary Indians living and working in the UAE in August 2015 and he addressed a huge gathering of Indian community in Dubai on February 11, 2018 where he was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd chanting ‘Modi, Modi!’. Doesn’t he owe anything to these Indians who are forced to seek greener pastures and won’t forget their roots?
The NRI remittances to India from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman stood at more than $37,000 million in 2018. During the same year Indian residents in the United States, the United Kingdom, Nepal, Canada and Australia remitted $23,493 to India.
NRIs are not begging the government to spend anything from the government exchequer but from the various fees that have been levied for over three decades under various heads. The yearly remittances haven’t dipped much from 2018 and they are completely justified if they demand to be evacuated post haste.
The citizens of the Philippines and Nepal living in the GCC and other Mideast countries are better served by their governments with much meagre resources.
External Affairs Minister Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, a career diplomat and a politician by accident, needn’t fear a political fallout from the current situation. But he could have utilised his diplomatic skills for a far better outcome for NRIs and earned some brownie points. It is also a fact that we don’t have much of a Ministry of External Affairs left with the PMO running the show.
That the Central government is adopting such lackadaisical attitude in this issue because of the reality that NRIs do not have political franchise. What’s the need to expend resources on people who have no voting rights is the thought process that seems to be driving the government. One can only say that this is an inhumane attitude that needs to be condemned.
All the foreign accolades for the government and those occupying the top post would mean nothing if and when these NRIs decide that they have the power to swing the outcome of a general election in India. a

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