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REAL PROBLEMS

Indian students fleeing Ukraine face bombs, long waits—and tacky government propaganda

REUTERS/Ritesh Shukla
Not really.
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Escaping a war zone in Ukraine after waiting anxiously for many days, several Indians also had to face some over-the-top public relations exercise by their government before finally feeling safe in their country.

Ever since the war broke out last week, many Indian nationals, especially those in the student community, have questioned their government’s efforts, or the lack thereof, to help them. Several of them felt they were left to fend for themselves.

At least one Indian student has been killed in the violence and another reportedly shot at.

Speaking to a TV channel, one fleeing Indian student shared her ordeal, saying, “…help had not been forthcoming and no one from the Indian embassy responded to her queries or the requests.”

“Why are we stranded?” she asked directing her complaints to the prime minister. “Where were you, Modi ji? Busy with UP [Uttar Pradesh] elections, perhaps.” Prime minister Modi is indeed camped in the northern Indian state, campaigning for the crucial legislative polls there.

Yet, his government’s been keen to be seen as having been there are at the forefront.

Modi has sent a bunch of senior ministers to “welcome” the Indian nationals who are being airlifted from locations around the war zone in what has been termed Operation Ganga by the Indian government. These ministers have often been seen boarding the flights and breaking into fiery patriotic speeches before an exhausted audience.

Their actions suggest an eagerness on the government’s part to ensure that all credit for the airlifting, couched as a “rescue op,” accrues to the government and especially Modi.

Many, including members of Modi’s own party, like Varun Gandhi, have criticised his government, dubbing these optics as “opportunism.”

“More than 15,000 students are still stuck in the battlefield amid mismanagement because [the government] didn’t make the right decisions at the right time. Ensuring their safe return by taking concrete strategic and diplomatic action is not a favour but our responsibility. One shouldn’t look for ‘opportunity’ in every disaster,” Gandhi said in a tweet.

The PR exercise of the Modi government

Exhausted with their embassy’s inefficiency and shaken by the bombing and violence in Ukraine, angry Indian students have also been questioning their government’s propaganda.

Their distaste for such elaborate “welcome parties” was evident at least in one instance when, on arrival in Delhi, one of Modi’s ministers asked airlifted students to hail their motherland. They complied, twice.

And then he asked them to hail Modi himself—and the response from the students was tellingly muted.

On other occasions, angry students have also termed these meetings nothing but “showoff.”

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