Twitter Photograph:( Reuters )
This isn't the first time politics has let down India
Whether it's politics or sports, the show always goes on. We saw one play out over the weekend. Thankfully it was on social media. So the ordinary citizens were spared. At the centre of it were a couple of embassies in New Delhi. The row started with a video on Twitter.
The video showed oxygen cylinders being delivered to the Philippine embassy. The men delivering the cylinders belong to the Youth Congress. For those unfamiliar, they are the youth wing of Congress, India's principal opposition party.
The matter should have ended there. But what's philanthropy without social media posts? And what's politics without a bit of chest-thumping?
Opposition leaders soon started sharing this video. Former union minister Jairam Ramesh went one step ahead. He asked whether India's foreign ministry was sleeping?
The matter could have ended there as well. But what's politics without one-upping your rival?
The reply came right from the top.
India's Foreign Minister S Jaishankar was the one who responded. He said there were no Wuhan virus cases at the Philippine embassy.
Jaishankar called this an unsolicited supply. Then the story shifted to the New Zealand High Commission.
They posted a tweet which was later deleted. It was an appeal for oxygen cylinders.
The Youth Congress jumped in again. And another video followed. This time they were at the Kiwi mission delivering Oxygen.
Now it's highly unusual for a diplomatic mission to reach out to the opposition. Especially in the middle of a crisis. It sends a wrong message politically. New Zealand was quick to recognise this. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern admitted that her diplomats chose the wrong route.
New Zealand should have been more mindful of the protocols. It was some employee's moment of desperation on Twitter.
But there is no denying that our leaders should have been more mature. Jairam Ramesh continued with his jibes on Twitter.
And this time the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson set the record straight.
"The chief of protocol and heads of divisions are in continuous touch with all high commissions and embassies and MEA is responding to their medical demands, especially those related to Covid. This includes facilitating their hospital treatment. Given the pandemic situation, all are urged not to hoard essential supplies, including oxygen."
Couple of things to note here. Most importantly, this entire controversy was needless and avoidable.
We don't know the exact situation at the New Zealand High Commission. So we won't speculate on that.
But the fact is, such back and forth helps no one. This is not the time for sabre-rattling on social media.
Could the Youth Congress not have coordinated this with the MEA? Yes they could have. Could seasoned politicians not have dragged this row on Twitter? Of course they could have.
But in politics it's all about playing to the gallery. It's not about helping but being seen helping.
We have seen leaders flag off relief trucks in the past.
Imagine that, people are eagerly waiting for aid. But the trucks are held off so that the leader can flag them off.
This isn't the first time politics has let down India.
And it won't be the last time. But unprecedented crises call for unprecedented measures.
So maybe our leaders can hold off on playing politics. Because once the dust settles, there will be plenty of time for that.
Circling back to the embassies, why are they appealing for oxygen? The foreign minister says the Philippine embassy has zero cases. So the cylinders were a precaution.
They weren't actively looking for them. But considering how pressed we are for oxygen, precaution is in effect hoarding. This applies for all embassies.
We realise how vulnerable the diplomats feel. They are thousands of miles away in a foreign land. That too in the middle of a deadly pandemic. But there are patients who need oxygen right now.
So hoarding is simply not acceptable. And this was the MEA's message to embassies and high commissions.
Do not hoard essentials, including oxygen.
As for the politicians. These diplomats are our guests. Helping them is our collective responsibility. India has offered vaccines to all foreign diplomats. A few of them have already gotten the jabs.
But the season of politics is perennial. Crisis or not they continue to squabble.