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India’s World – Charity and Geo-Politics in Nepal quake relief

India’s World – Charity and Geo-Politics in Nepal quake relief


12 May 2015


Indian relief and rescue opertaions in Nepal began within four hours of series of devastating earthquakes hitting that country. There has been a remarkable mobilisation of Indian Army, Indian Air Force and NDRF to provide rescue and relief in Nepal. Field hospitals have been set up by the Army and medical teams have been sent to relatively remote areas. Indian aircrafts have been helping Nepal in providing supplies and evacuating people. These operations have continued at a relentless pace. Although help has been pouring into Nepal from all over the world, the Indian relief efforts remain incomparable. In the midst of rescue operatioins in Nepal, there have been a series of media commentaries especially in the western press suggesting that Indian and Chinese aid have hidden political agenda in it and the two countries are trying to influence that country. Statements of Nepali leaders, bracketing unprecidented disaster response of India with that of countries, have also not helped.

Both India and Nepal want to establish a good image in Nepal, and win the hearts of the Nepalese people and extending a hand of help to Nepal at this juncture is important for image-building, and to build their respective influence in the country. Although the current focus is firmly on helping the survivors get medical attention and necessities, eventually India and China are expected to play crucial roles in the long and expensive job of helping reconstruct the country itself. That’s when the geopolitical wrangling over this strategically important nation is likely to intensify.

For years India’s influence over Nepal has waned, as the Chinese have gained traction. Despite a history of political, economic and social intimacy, and the fact that Nepal’s currency is pegged to the Indian rupee, successive Indian governments failed to engage with their Nepali counterparts. The Chinese downturn in Nepal began in earnest in 2008, after Beijing lost its most reliable partner in the country—the monarchy, which controlled the armed forces. Analysts believe the Chinese have supported the country’s ruling Maoist party after their guerrilla war that deposed the king.

There has been some discontent over the unsurprising access that Indian media were getting on the relief sorties being run by the Indian air force planes. Some people allege that the air force is more interested in rescuing stranded Indians rather than helping evacuate quake affected people. Some people are also saying that the Indian air force planes have virtually taken control of the airport, thus slowing down other international aid efforts. Some western experts have alleged that the outsized coverage of the Indian effort had put to shade heroic efforts made by the Nepalese army, its armed police and the local officials who have tried their best to work in very difficult circumstances. Meanwhile, Nepal’s health ministry has said it will allow only a few teams of health workers in the country, and others will be asked to return home.

The earthquake struck Nepal at a time when its political parties were fighting over the provisions of an overdue new constitution to cement the country’s transition from Hindu monarchy to secular democracy. Sovereignty and geopolitics were part of the national debate.

There are also concerns related to the Western presence in Nepal, especially among supporters of right-wing Hindu parties and the bureaucracy, which is dominated by so-called high-caste Hindus. They see Western nations as having a conversion agenda in Nepal. Nepal may not be able to deal with the aftermath of the earthquake on its own, but it cannot accept assistance at the cost of the nation’s sense of sovereignty and self-respect.

India, the traditional power in the region, launched Operation Maitri soon after the quake on Saturday. It has sent the most help so far, deploying 13 aircraft and more than 500 rescuers as well as water, food, equipment and medical supplies. China, increasingly making inroads in Nepal through everything from infrastructure investment to increased tourism, also pledged all-out assistance within hours of the disaster. India’s rival, Pakistan, also has sent four cargo planes full of supplies.

While China’s relief efforts may not rival India’s in Nepal quite yet, its offers of investment in the power industry and other infrastructure could give India some substantial competition. However, India and China have been saying that they have no such intentions behind these rescue and relief operations.