The Russian Ukraine conflict and the plight of Indian students seem to have occupied a fair bit of media space. I tried to go a bit into the issue, the background to this situation and took a look at whether things could have been handled differently.
Firstly, Why did the Indian students go to Ukraine?
There are many reasons, but one of the reasons is our reservation policy, which keeps out some of our deserving cases. I intentionally use the word ‘some’ because it is a fact that a good part of the students who study ‘medicine’ in Ukraine and other countries are unable to secure a merit seat. Those who opt for paid seats in Indian Medical colleges, discover that studying abroad is cheaper.Once they qualify abroad, they then have to appear for the Foreign Medical Graduates Exam to practise in India. A leading online publication reported that over 80% of these graduates did not pass the qualifying examinations in India. The converse of this is that 20% of them did and these possibly are those who faced the unintended impact of reservation in educational institutions here. 80% of those who fail, then permanently are lost to India and we are still short of medical professionals in this country... Our reservation policy did not largely focus on increasing the number of seats for medical studies but rather chose to ration them. In hindsight, I believe that the intention was to cater to a certain section of the population while financing the activity from the paying students. . As a result, some of our otherwise meritorious students too had to go to Russia, Ukraine, Philippines etc. A significant number of the students have gone for medical education. This is now being corrected by establishing medical colleges in every district.
Secondly, was there an indication that things could spiral out of control in Ukraine? In my view, no one including the Ukrainian Government expected the situation to deteriorate so rapidly, more so considering that the two protagonists have been indulging in verbal war for a period of time.The frosty relationship between Russia and Ukraine has been going on from 2014, perhaps even even earlier. Upto January 25, 2022, the Ukrainian government itself did not see a threat. India’s first travel advisory urging citizens to leave Ukraine was issued on February 15, 2022, nine days before Russia’s military advance into Ukraine. The US government reissued an advisory on February 25, 2022, without any state sponsored evacuation program. The UK has been issuing advisories from February 11, 2022, but we did not see or hear of any evacuation programme at that time for UK Citizens. . China did not issue any advisory until the war broke out nor did it evacuate its 6,000 citizens till ..February 26.Many countries reportedly,advised their citizens to find their own way out, closed the embassies and charged commercial rates for evacuation. The UK has relocated its embassy from Kyiv to Lviv, a city just 80 kilometers from the Polish border. Therefore there were no consular services as well. African students from Morocco, Nigeria, Egypt and more, are also stranded and seeking help from their countries.
Vis-a-vis this, the Indian government evacuated its students free of cost at the first opportunity.The Prime Minister took it on himself to lead discussions with the heads of both the Governments and tried his level best to ensure a safe passage out of the war zone. This to my mind, is true leadership. It is also a fact that students had to face collateral damage, one of our bright youngsters lost his life and our hearts go out to his family. I am not able to fathom what more could the Government of India have done in a war zone..
So what did India do differently?
India’s embassy was functional in Kyiv until recently and has now shifted to Warsaw, Poland.. The first batch of Indian students, who were stranded in Ukraine, arrived at Mumbai airport in the evening of February 26, 2022. The Indian authorities released phone numbers and launched other modes of contact where stranded Indian students could reach out and coordinate with Indian officials. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi, confirmed that all of the 22,000 Indians have been evacuated so far. It is important to note that Pakistani and Turkish nationals holding Indians flags were also granted entry and safety. Further, there are reports that Nepal requested Indian help to evacuate its nationals from the war zone, signalling that India’s voice was being heard in both the camps.
Thirdly, it is to India’s credit that despite Ukraine’s pro Pakistan tilt vis a vis the Kashmir issue, India still headed the call of humanitarian crisis by sending relief material to Ukraine. Russia has been an old friend of India and is our major arms supplier. Thus India abstained from voting in UNGA. India balanced the act between Russia and Ukraine. Indian NGO like Sewa International also helped 30,000 people of India and many other nationalities too. India struck a deal to buy Russian Oil at a discount. US has waived sanctions under CAATSA program on India's purchases from Russia. India has activated Non US$ trade. India also made a statement that it respects the territorial integrity of all nations. Given all of this, it is a tight rope walk but the government has done a wonderful job and needs to be complimented.
What do the professional naysayers say?
What do the professional naysayers say? Where is the evidence for this? Why so much untruth? Why are they bent upon maligning the nation and its government? Why this low narrative? While the existence of constructive criticism is essential for the smooth functioning of a democracy, it is also important to understand the constraints under which certain Government decisions are taken. Good work, done by any party or any individual for that matter, needs to be appreciated and duplicated.