The situation in Bahrain has steadily deteriorated, with the al-Khalifa monarchy unleashing army tanks onto the streets of the capital, Manama. About two days ago, I asked on Twitter what India’s contingency plans were for the over 300,000 Indian citizens that lived in Manama, should the violence escalate. As early as February 14, I had tweeted that the violence in Manama will have a direct impact on the security of NRIs living in the country.
Today, on day six of the protests in Bahrain, MEA released this statement on the situation:
In response to a question the Official Spokesperson said that India is closely following the developments in Bahrain. Our Mission in Manama is in regular touch with representatives of the Indian community numbering over 350,000 , who are reported to be safe. We hope that calm soon returns and prevails in Bahrain. [Ministry of External Affairs]
Now, Bahrain no doubt is a friendly country and one of India’s important trading partners in the region. And I appreciate the sensitivities involved in issuing statements on the situation. However, I wasn’t hitherto aware that governments based their policy responses on “hope.” Apparently, MEA “hopes” calm will return to Bahrain.
But what if it does not?
Further, how does the Indian Embassy in Manama know is citizens are safe? If violence in Bahrain escalates, how do these citizens know where to apply for relief?
I make these points, because of the state of the Indian Embassy in Bahrain. The Embassy didn’t bother to renew its website (indianembassybahrain.com), which resulted in the website being bought by an other owner, who ended up hosting pornographic content. Worse, the Embassy purchased a second website (indianembassy-bh.com), which expired on February 15, 2011. As of today, the Indian Embassy has no effective way of being able to communicate with NRIs in that country.
On being informed about the issue, the Foreign Secretary thanked the responder and said that the ambassador “is checking.” Call this nitpicking, but surely Amb. HE Mohan Kumar or his staff should have already been alert to the minor issue of their website disappearing off the face of the earth, sometime over the course of the past three days. If violence becomes unmanageable for the state this morning, I’m not sure how he or his staff expect to be able to communicate with stranded NRIs.
Their negligence is unpardonable.
Footnote: By the way, and for what it’s worth, Indian citizens in Bahrain can call the 24-hour helpline (+973 17713509) to reach out to the Embassy for relief, if needed. This is the only number that the Embassy published prior to the demise of its website. Going by current form though, whether or not this number works is another question altogether.
Update: It appears that the Foreign Secretary’s follow-up had the desired effect on Embassy staff in Bahrain (LT @nikhilnarayanan). Indian Embassy, Bahrain’s website is back up (http://www.indianembassybahrain.com) as of 1:30pm, February 19. The website includes an advisory to Indian citizens in Bahrain and emergency contact numbers[1771-2785, 3930-4285 and 3982-8767].