Opinion: The Tunnel Rescue Is The Story Of New India

India moved a mountain in the great Himalayan region, literally and metaphorically, to rescue 41 workers trapped deep inside a tunnel. The better part of the story - when they breathed fresh air for the first time on Tuesday evening, after 17 long days, none of them reported sick.

The nation had waited for the transformative moment anxiously since the morning of November 12, when a portion of the under construction Silkyara tunnel in Uttarkashi collapsed. This was an unprecedented crisis, something India, or even better part of the world had not seen.

The story ended with smiles, celebrations and congratulatory messages. Rescuing 41 workers shut in from all sides, deep inside a tunnel, was a humongous task, a Himalayan challenge, quite literally. Setbacks and unexpected situations were aplenty but that made the grit of everyone involved all the more strong. Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, Plan D, all focused on the singular target. Failure was not an option. Some plan had to succeed.

On Tuesday evening, when the ambulance engines roared to life and their blue and red lights started flickering, it was like a second Diwali for 140 crore Indians.

The first worker emerged moments later. Within an hour, all 41 had been evacuated. The nation cheered them.

This moment was, perhaps, from the perspective of popular psyche, the biggest manifestation of New India in the making. A self-confident nation, which cared for its people, which would do anything and everything, even move a mighty mountain to keep its people alive and kicking.

The catch-phrase "Impossible is nothing" from a popular sports brand ad came to mind.

What unfolded in the two-week rescue mission belied that widely quoted adage - "too many cooks spoil the broth". About 1,000 people from a dozen agencies - NDRF (National Disaster Response Force), SDRF (State Disaster Response Force), BRO (Border Roads Organisation), ONGC, National Highways and Infrastructure Corporation, Tehri Hydro Development Corporation, Satlaj Vidyut Nigam, Rail Vikas Nigam, Trenchless Engineering, Indian Army, Indian Air Force - worked in tandem for 17 days. Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami and a central minister, Gen (Retd) VK Singh, along with senior officials were stationed at the spot for days. Some leading experts were flown in from abroad, top officials of the Prime Minister's Office were constantly on the job. Prime Minister Narendra Modi monitored the operation daily and issued directions.

Men and machines were flown in from different parts of the country. There never was any confusion, no inter-agencies conflict. There was coordination and cooperation, something so far unheard of. It underlined that strong political will and concern for the people can make a big difference.

One may note that in this year's Independence Day speech PM Modi had talked eloquently about the contribution made by the Vishkarmas, Shramjivis or workers in nation building. He had recently announced a special scheme for them. Forty-one such Shramjivis/Vishwakarmas trapped in the tunnel presented a giant challenge for rescuers.

In close to a decade, a rising India has is built a new persona for itself, for within the nation and outside. Atmanirbhar Bharat is no hollow slogan. It is manifested in different sectors relating to security, infrastructure, innovation, economy and welfare of its people through fair and transparent last mile delivery.

From a seeker India has become a giver to the world. In nine and half years of the Modi regime, it has built a reputation of first responder in a crisis situation - be it by offering help to the Global South during Covid, or in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Nepal, or more recently in Syria and Turkey, or in aftermath of a political crisis in Sri Lanka, or calling.

India would leave no stone unturned to evacuate its people, howsoever big or small numbers that may be.

- Months after Modi came to power at the Centre in 2014, India safely evacuated Christian priest Father Alexis Prem Kumar, who had been kidnapped in Afghanistan eight months previously.

- The latest was Operation Ajay, when India evacuated Indians from Israel and Gaza amidst the most lethal situations.

- Earlier this year, Operation Kaveri was launched to evacuate around 2,500 Indians stranded in Sudan.

- Operation Ganga was launched in 2022 to evacuate Indian nationals stranded in Ukraine when its war against Russia erupted.

- Operation Devi Shakti was launched in 2021 to bring back Indian from Afghanistan after the Americans left Kabul and Taliban took control.

- Operation Samudra Setu, a naval operation, was launched in 2020 after Covid broke out to bring back Indian citizens from overseas. 

- Through operation Vande Bharat 2020, lakhs of Indians were brought back from foreign countries amid Covid lockdowns.

- Operation Nistar in 2018 was initiated after a severe cyclonic storm wreaked havoc around Socotra Island in Yemen. Indian Navy evacuated 38 Indians.

- In 2016 around 250 Indians were brought home after Belgium was hit by terrorist strikes.

- In 2016 Operation Sankat Mochan was launched to evacuate Indians amid South Sudanese Civil War.

The Silkyara tunnel evacuation is a story of India's new found confidence in the last decade, its great strides and novel clarity of vision, determination, policy implementation and strong political will to take right calls in toughest of situations.

(Sanjay Singh is a senior journalist based in Delhi)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.