THE OXYGEN crisis in Delhi has opened up a new front between the Government and the Opposition Congress, this time involving two foreign missions. And led to an unusually undiplomatic message from the Government to “all high commissions and embassies”: Do not hoard oxygen.
This comes in the middle of a global Covid diplomacy push with India sending more than 6.5 cr vaccines to over 80 countries and around 40 nations, including the US, sending aid in the form of oxygen and related equipment, like concentrators and tankers, and key drugs such as remdesivir.
Sunday’s spat was sparked by posts on social media by Youth Congress that its volunteers had supplied oxygen cylinders to the New Zealand and Philippines missions following specific requests. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar described this as “unsolicited supply” while the MEA spokesperson said that “given the pandemic situation, all are urged not to hoard essential supplies, including oxygen”.
Jaishankar’s remarks were in response to a tweet by Congress leader Jairam Ramesh after Youth Congress chief B V Srinivas posted visuals of the volunteers at the Philippines Embassy with oxygen cylinders on Saturday night.
Actions speak louder than words, Mr. Minister. No amount of “image management” can hide the reality of people gasping for oxygen. Please do your job instead of heckling at those who help the needy. The @IYC is showing the way, and we are proud of them. @DrSJaishankar https://t.co/XCa4k9qkp4
— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) May 3, 2021
“While I thank @IYC for its stellar efforts, as an Indian citizen I’m stunned that the youth wing of the opposition party is attending to SOS calls from foreign embassies. Is the MEA sleeping @DrSJaishankar?” Jairam posted.
Jaishankar’s response was terse. “MEA checked with the Philippines Embassy. This was an unsolicited supply as they had no Covid cases. Clearly for cheap publicity by you know who. Giving away cylinders like this when there are people in desperate need of oxygen is simply appalling,” he posted.
“Jairamji, MEA never sleeps; our people know across the world. MEA also never fakes; we know who does,” he wrote.
Adding to the political spat was a tweet on Sunday by the New Zealand High Commission requesting help from Srinivas and the Youth Congress for an oxygen cylinder. “Right away. Please share further details in DM,” Srinivas responded.
After Youth Congress workers reached the High Commission with cylinders, Srinivas tweeted: “We have reached New Zealand High Commission with oxygen cylinders. Please open the gates and save a soul on time.”
But the High Commission had, meanwhile, deleted the tweet and posted another: “We are trying all sources to arrange for oxygen cylinders urgently and our appeal has unfortunately been misinterpreted, for which we are sorry.”
Srinivas later put out a video clip of Youth Congress workers entering the High Commission with a cylinder. “New Zealand high commission opened gates of the embassy and accepted cylinders. Also, they thanked the #SOSIYC team for this quick relief as the patient inside the embassy was critically ill,” he tweeted.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Srinivas said that one of the volunteers — Manu Dixit — received a call from “someone on behalf of the Philippines Embassy” for cylinders.
When contacted, Dixit said: “Last night, I got a call from someone in Mumbai, who is connected with the Philippines Embassy, saying they need cylinders immediately. I asked that person to share the contacts. They shared the name… We reached out to him. He said there are two patients in the Embassy who need oxygen. They requested for ten small cylinders. We did not have small cylinders. We arranged two jumbo cylinders.”
The Philippines Embassy and the New Zealand High Commission did not respond to requests from The Indian Express for comment.
Dixit said Jaishankar’s response was “disappointing”. “We are not delivery boys, that we got an order and we entered the Embassy. We got a request and we helped. We are not doing politics here,” Dixit said.
Responding to queries regarding medical requirements of High Commissions and Embassies, MEA official spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said: “The Chief of Protocol and Heads of Divisions are in continuous touch with all High Commissions/Embassies and MEA is responding to their medical demands, especially those related to Covid. This includes facilitating their hospital treatment.