Operation Ganga and the emergence of civis indicus sum

Civis romanus sum established that to be a Roman citizen meant something special. The same is happening now in India.

Published: 12th March 2022 01:34 AM  |   Last Updated: 12th March 2022 01:34 AM   |  A+A-

Operation Ganga

For representational purposes (Soumyadip Sinha | Express Illustrations)

For many years, as India grew and the country acquired nuclear weapons and came to be regarded as one of the world’s about-to-become leading economies, I often asked this question in print and TV: Would the country be able to develop a new way of looking at its citizens and their well-being?

In the Roman world, we find the Latin phrase civis romanus sum, meaning ‘I am a Roman citizen’. This is found in Cicero’s In Verrem as the plea of a Roman citizen for the upkeep and sanctity of their legal rights across the empire. Simply, just the fact that one was a citizen of Rome made a vital difference to one’s safety and legal rights across the empire.

This has always seemed to me an integral part of any country that is rising or intends to grow on the global stage. After all, if a country cannot protect its own citizens, what guarantees could it possibly offer the world?

Therefore, my point always has been that not only must India protect its citizens no matter where they are, but also should be seen to be doing so—not just as a humanitarian act but because of the simple fact that they are Indians. Their citizenship in a sense comes with that protection, the sense that the state is there to safeguard them.

This essay argues that Operation Ganga—for evacuating Indian students from Ukraine—is a sign of a developing civis indicus sum or evidence of the value and protection that comes from being an Indian citizen.

The nation has evacuated citizens before, most notably from Kuwait after the Iraqi invasion in 1990 but such stories are few in independent India’s history and never spoken of as something that the state offers (rather than an ad hoc measure). Some of this narrative and approach started to change with foreign minister Sushma Swaraj (under Prime Minister Narendra Modi) who used Twitter as an effective mode of constant communication with any citizen who needed help in any part of the world. The late Swaraj tweeted in 2017: “Even if you are stuck on the Mars, Indian Embassy there will help you.”

With Operation Ganga, the Indian state has not only moved resources like planes to help in the evacuation but also sent off different ministers to various parts of Europe bordering Ukraine to ensure that the country’s students can cross over to safety.

These ministers have personally been present at airports to see off the students and spoken to them inside aircrafts to lift their spirits and vocalise the promise that the government was with them at every step and would do all that was possible to ensure their safety, no matter where they were stuck.

The idea of conducting this mission in full public view and with vocal commitment from the highest levels of the Indian government is an exercise in establishing the country’s sovereign duties and showcasing behaviour expected from a rising power with ample resources.

India has sought to display in a way the same thing that it showcased in its vaccine diplomacy during the Covid pandemic—a sense of responsibility even when caught in actions that it had no role in triggering and ensuring that the idea of safety for human life is placed at a premium.

The era of civis indicus sum, therefore, is now upon us when the value of the safety and security of Indian citizens comes backed with the assurance of a state that is one of the largest democracies and economies of the world.

This is a moment of psychological transition within the machinery of the Indian state and in the way the country looks at itself and what it turns to its government for—it must be noted that several other nations with similarly stuck citizenry in Ukraine have struggled to make such arrangements.

The Indian citizen, the hungry, lonely and scared student in Ukraine, though, has been able to count on the spirit of civis indicus sum.

Hindol Sengupta

Vice President & Head of Research at Invest India, GoI's national investment promotion agency



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