Indian evacuation from Libya – Too little, too late

Finally, two Air India flights carrying around 500 Indians landed at the Terminal 2 of Delhi Airport. Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao was beaming and smiling facing the TV cameras. The Indian Government seems to be patting its own back for this exemplary humanitarian action. The problem is that it has taken too long to ponder over the issue which needed to be handled on emergency basis.

Most people would cry foul – do you have to be so critical of everything that the government does? After all the GoI has gone out of the way to air lift stranded Indian citizen and that too free of cost (unlike Egypt).

Why I am critical of the government’s action or rather inaction is because most of you may not be aware that even before the first Air India flight landed in Tripoli, China had already evacuated 16,000 of its citizens using all routes – air, water and land. Chinese Naval Ships have been pressed into service long back while even today we see a statement by our “alert” Foreign Minister S.M Krishna announcing that Indian Ships will soon leave Indian shores for Libya. He doesn’t tell you the more important thing – when will they reach Libya.

Not just China, almost all other concerned countries had started evacuation of their citizens from Libya long back. Brazil for example has already evacuated 3000 people.

There are over 18,000 Indians stranded in Libya. The GoI has announced its intention to operate 2 Air India flights per day for next 10 days. At the rate of 500 people per day this will evacuate 5,000 people. The naval ships whenever it reaches can only take around 1,100 people. That still leaves around 12,000 people. What about them, Mr. Krishna?

Second and more important aspect is timing and urgency. We don’t have all the time in the world to complete the evacuation at leisure. The situation in Libya is explosive and needless to say that it required urgent and timely action but like everything else the government machinery in India is not designed to act in urgency. The Babus would have raised endless queries – who will pay? When Egypt evacuation was not free why make it free this time? How much would it cost? Where is the budget for this? How can we minimise the cost? Can we send ship in place of flights? Is it safe to land flights there? I can think of 100 more but what’s the point?

The battle between the Pro-Gaddafi forces and the protesters is now entering the final stage and it is feared to be one of the bloodiest and ugliest battles. This could result in a massive genocide leaving 50-100 thousand people dead.  On the other hand, USA and its western allies have been waiting for their citizens to be evacuated before taking any direct action. The last American citizen left yesterday and the US embassy has been closed. Immediately, you can notice a distinct change in tone of Obama’s statements. British PM, Cameron has also hinted at more effective action as the last batch of britishers leaves Libya.

Indian governments dithering may have put the lives of thousands of its citizens in danger of being caught in the cross fire. Let’s hope that despite the fiasco on government’s part, our fellow citizens safely get out of Libya.

Time to pray and pray hard!

PS: For a first hand account please read – “Embassy did not provide us any help : Indian in Libya (

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