Chandy’s Operation Erbil

Hours before media got a hint of the imminent evacuation of Malayali nurses from strife-torn Iraq, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy walked into Kerala House here on Thursday night with a smile, which no one could decipher.

Though he betrayed no tension, mediamen gathered there speculated about the possible fallout on his political career if things go the wrong way but Chandy was a relieved man then. He did not tell the waiting media why he was tension-free at that hour of crisis.

By then, Chandy had a definite word from External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj about the “good news” that the modalities of evacuation have been worked out in coordination with the contacts in the Middle East.

He had already struck a chord with Swaraj in his first meeting and their coordinated efforts and leadership had ensured victory for them. Swaraj had her first crisis as External Affairs Minister and with an approaching Budget session of Parliament, it would have been difficult for her and the government to tackle criticism if there was any flaw.

The Chief Minister flew in to Delhi on Wednesday night and held a series of discussions with Swaraj in two days, exerting pressure for the early evacuation of the nurses. Chandy was regularly updated about the developments by the Minister and senior officials.

Chandy also knew a prolonged crisis and some harm to the nurses would have put him in a spot, with his detractors inside and outside Congress baying for his blood. More over, the trouble for Chandy was that of the 46 nurses, 17 were from his home district and he personally knew the families of many of them. It was not just the nurses who rang him up from Iraq or their parents, but their relatives too made calls. Everyone looked up to him for early resolution of their troubles.

With assurances from the negotiators in the Middle East and External Affairs Ministry officials, a tired Chandy caught up with sleep a bit early at 10 PM on Thursday, only to be woken up around midnight with calls from nurses and their families, who were unaware of the actual plans, about hiccups in their evacuation. The calls ended around 5 AM only with Chandy patiently assuring people without giving many details about plans.

“How can I avoid these calls at midnight? They had their worries though I knew there was nothing to worry,” Chandy told an aide on Friday morning as news trickled in that nurses will be freed.

However, as he walked into conference hall of Kerala House to address media for a second time on Friday afternoon, Chandy was all smiles and confident, accepting sweets from leaders of Nurses Association.

(An edited version appeared on July 6, 2014)

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