By Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi
The massive earthquake that struck Nepal and adjoining areas of India, Bangladesh and Tibet, has left behind death and destruction. The maximum deaths and injuries and damage to property have been in Nepal. Preliminary reports place over 1500 dead in Nepal and over 200 in neighbouring countries. Thousands have also been injured. The Richter scale tipped at 7.9 – an undoubtedly severe earthquake. It was also followed by a large number of after-shocks and according to the authorities, some more are expected.
The response to this massive human tragedy, both in India and Nepal was phenomenal. Decision-making in the Government of India has undergone a sea-change. Gone are the days of leisurely committees and core groups staffed by bureaucrats took their own time in meeting to decide what to do. As with all committees, they could never come up with unambiguous decisions that could be implemented without going back again and again for clarifications.
As soon as news of the earthquake started filtering in, Prime Minister Modi brooked no delay in ‘taking charge’ and vigorously activating the usually slow and cumbersome government machinery and chasing everyone ‘to act and act now’. It needs to be highlighted that it was a Saturday and being a non-working day, offices were closed. However, such were the directions emanating from the PMO that the usually somnolent bureaucracy shed their sloth and moved fast to implement the policy decisions of the PM and the Cabinet.
When disasters, whether natural or man made, occur, the Indian Military has always been an institution that responds spontaneously and does not wait to receive any formal or informal orders and instructions. Even though last Saturday was the last day of the important Army Commanders Conference, for which all GO’sC-in-C had been in the capital since the beginning of the week, this was not an inhibiting factor in quick and decisive responses. The well-oiled military machine, especially of the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force (IAF), automatically started functioning and within hours Super Hercules and Globe Master Transport aircraft of the IAF were trundling down runways with trained personnel, including medical and nursing staff and a wide variety of stores immediately needed for the succor of the affected populace. They headed for Kathmandu, even as the after-shocks were continuing. The army placed two field hospitals in mobilization state, as also two engineer task forces.
While the transport aircraft of the IAF were streaking across the skies, heading for Kathmandu, the Indian Army’s Everest Expeditionary team at the Everest Base Camp were doing yeomen service in retrieving the dead and the living members of expeditions of many countries that had been buried by a massive avalanche that had struck a part of the Base Camp. The Indian Army’s Team of about 36 personnel immediately split in to two sub-teams and moved for the rescue of the Everesters of other countries. They did so with the meager resources they had, but their brave and rapid response helped in saving many lives and retrieving bodies of the unfortunate who had died.
The Indian Military Adviser in the High Commission of India at Kathmandu was meanwhile getting in touch with the large number of families of our Gorkha troops, who live in and around Kathmandu, Pokhra and other traditional recruiting areas from where our Gorkha soldiers are recruited. Those affected also need succor and support.
The Nepalese Army too had moved with precision and alacrity and could be seen in the visuals of TV News Channels, working with the affected people in various parts of Kathmandu and other affected areas. Practically the entire officer corps of the Nepalese Army as well as many soldiers have been trained in the training establishments of the Indian Army. They have not only imbibed the professionalism but also the ethos of the Indian Army. This was evident in the way they responded to this major disaster that had struck their country-men.
When one looked at the TV News Screens covering the rapidly unfolding events, one was reminded of the slumberous and inordinately delayed response, when a major terrorist attack sponsored by Pakistan occurred in Mumbai – the financial capital of India, in 2008. The entire government structure at that time was acting in slow motion and even the much vaunted National Security Guard Team was waiting for its head (a police officer) and an aircraft to fetch up!
A few years earlier, when the region was suddenly struck by a powerful Tsunami in the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean, the then Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), with great foresight and vision, had mobilized a number of naval vessels, without waiting for formal orders from the government. Resultantly, the entire world and especially our affected neighbours were overawed by the response and arrival of much needed assistance so speedily. Dividends that had accrued to India were massive.
We, the citizens of India, need to mull over the change that has been brought about in the corridors of the Government of India, by a visionary and no-nonsense PM at the helm of affairs. We also need to be proud of the Indian Military machine for its superb training, professional competence, quick responses and the high degree of dedication to such disasters. It need not be stressed that our responses have added tremendous goodwill in Nepal towards India. However, of greater importance is that such quick and decisive policies and the speed of their implementation signal the arrival of our nation on the international scene.
Well done India and kudos to the Indian Military!
The author is a former Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS).