For many years India, only one of two nations on the face of the planet with over one billion people, has punched woefully below its weight in world affairs. Just as with the Mayweather-Pacquiao “fight of the century” taking place later today, it is actions and not words that matter in this quest for respect. India has long held that it wants to be taken more seriously, with demands for support from other countries to join the UN Security Council as a permanent member. Well, India in 2015 has gotten back to back opportunities to prove itself to the world thanks to two unfortunate tragedies: the collapse of Yemen, and the massive Himalayan earthquake.
When Yemen descended into chaos in recent weeks, several thousand U.S. citizens suddenly found themselves stranded in a bloody war zone, fast becoming a nest of terrorists and rebels that sounds entirely unpleasant for an aid worker, journalist, or backpacker from the States. Even worse, U.S. troops had been gone and the American Embassy had been shuttered for months at that point. With no presence to speak of, and with assessments by the Pentagon that evacuation operations for its own citizens would be too dangerous, America turned to the Indian Navy with an exceedingly rare cry for help. India, which had many thousands of its own citizens to evacuate, came through in spades with dramatic rescues of Indians, Americans, and many other foreign nationals in highly dangerous waters infused with war and piracy. This is the stuff worthy of Hollywood- or Bollywood – thrillers, and the mission was accomplished professionally with a minimum of discussion and red tape. I cannot think of another time in the last 50 years when India’s military came to the aid of the United States in an hour of need, in a place where even US special forces were not given approval to deploy.
American praise was effusive, and rightly so.
“India has demonstrated its global leadership in recent weeks, first in Yemen and now in Nepal. We are grateful; we are impressed; we are inspired. And because our cooperation is expanding, India is using C-17s and C-130s on the front lines of its response,” US Ambassador to India Richard Verma said on April 28th.
Nepal has presented a wholly different can of worms. While Yemen was a clearly defined classic extraction operation over a relatively short period of time, Nepal represents a long-term commitment of time and resources in a wide variety of operations including security, search and rescue, medical services, food, clothing, shelter, family reintegration, etc. India was widely seen as the first foreign power to arrive in force to the Nepal earthquake scenes. While it is early days yet, and India’s capacities in emergency management aren’t fully mature yet, the early signs are entirely positive. India has the opportunity to emerge as the leader of an international coalition including China, the United States, England, France, Russia, and the UN. This is appropriate as Nepal is in India’s backyard.
It is the projection of force and humanitarian capability that will earn India respect, not demands to join certain clubs or status. Narendra Modi and his government deserve praise for recognizing that they have been called to action, not at a time and place of their choosing, and responded well. If this continues in the coming months and years, in response to events we cannot predict, India will have earned the right to call itself a global player. The Indian Ocean will continue to be a sea of drama and intrigue in the years to come, and the United States and other nations will probably again come to rely on India’s force projection in that area- and perhaps the ocean will live up to its name.
All Indians can be proud and point to April 2015, as the time when this process might have started.
Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor