The recent war of words between the state government of Kerala and the centre over evacuation of Indians from Libya highlights challenges of evolving a clear and coherent policy on diaspora security
By Guru Aiyar (@guruaiyar)
On 12th May, a group of Indians evacuated from the conflict zone of Libya were received by their family members at Cochin International Airport. They were evacuated as a life saving measure. Libya has been in the grip of a civil war since 2014. The two warring groups are the democratically elected and internationally recognised Libyan government and the rival Islamist group called the General Nationalist Congress (GNC).
What is appalling in this episode is the serious mistrust between the state government of Kerala and central government, specifically the ministry of external affairs. The Chief Minister of Kerala Mr. Oommen Chandy reportedly asserted that the centre only cared to ‘sympathise’ with the plight of stranded Indians. Union Minister of external affairs Ms Sushma Swaraj took to twitter to criticise Chandy. The CM in turn alleged that he made numerous trips to Delhi to meet Ms Swaraj to seek central intervention for the return of the Indian citizens from Kerala. Reportedly, these citizens had chosen to stay back even after the centre had made arrangements for them to return. On surface, the face-off seems politically motivated as Kerala heads towards assembly elections from May 16. But what is of interest is to ask the important question: what is the central government policy for security of Indian diaspora? Is there a response template with the MEA when it comes to such crises?
The question cannot be convincingly answered by anyone. But what can be achieved is to have a framework to situate the problem. The above instance can be analysed by understanding the concept of logic of commitment and the logic of exit defined by David Ellerman in The Dynamics of the Migration of the highly skilled(2004), a World Bank study.
“Every potential migrant faces a similar situation: to make a commitment to staying home and trying to improve it or to take its characteristics as given and search elsewhere for a new and better home. Economic models tend to model only the exit option, ignoring the possible logic of commitment, with its inherent uncertainties about the possibilities of transformation.”
Going by the ‘logic of exit’, the Non Resident Indians (NRIs) were skilled nurses who worked in a hospital in Libya. They left for greener pastures from a state which is well known for its high literacy rates. In March, a nurse and her son were killed in a rebel missile attack. The Indian government, through the ministry of external affairs, reportedly urged all the Indians to return. But the Indians who were staying in a camp in Tripoli said that they wanted the exit visa fine to be waived. In another twist to this episode, CM Chandy claimed that the state government wanted to pay the air fare but was prevented from doing so due to foreign exchange regulations.
What is very clear from the above is that there is no clear cut policy on evacuations of Indians from abroad. While the State Department of the United States has laid down clear guidelines for American citizens on what to expect during a crisis situation, a similar Indian policy, if it exists, cannot be found on the MEA website. It cannot be denied that the embassy staff abroad too will be under extreme stress in case of an emergency or a conflict situation. The evacuation of Indians have become increasingly challenging owing to various factors like host country politics and strife, geopolitical shifts, the Indian government’s stand on various issues, our own domestic politics etc. It is thus essential that the central government has a stated policy on diaspora evacuation.
Guru Aiyar is Research Scholar in Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar.