External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Thursday accused the Congress-led Opposition for politicising the issue of 39 missing Indians in Iraq, and rejected the charge, levelled by Congress’s Pratap Singh Bajwa, that she was misleading the country about the fate of the abducted men.
Agitated at the accusation in Rajya Sabha, Swaraj asked, “Why should I apologise? That I did not declare them dead?” The Congress, however, tried to corner her by saying that the government has been changing goal posts all through and demanded that the minister provide at least “one proof” for her belief that the missing men are alive.
“I have said in Parliament and outside that I have no evidence of their being alive or dead,” Swaraj said, adding that in the absence of any solid evidence or proof she cannot presume them dead. “We are not sitting idle. All countries which can help have been asked for help,” she said and added, “Why will I mislead? What will I gain? What will my government gain by misleading?”
She added that the sources who gave the Indian government, the confidence to carry on with the search include a “head of state and a foreign minister of another country”. She refused to disclose the identity of the sources, citing “diplomatic confidentiality,” and even said that even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would agree that such confidentiality cannot be breached.
The external affairs minister said that she has all along maintained that there is no proof of the abducted Indians being alive or dead. And in absence of “solid proof”, it was a “sin” at personal level and irresponsible act on the part of the government to declare them dead, the minister said.
Bajwa countered Swaraj’s assertion, asking what would Harjit Masih, one of the abducted Indians who had escaped, gain by claiming that he had witnessed the 39 being shot dead. She responded by saying that his statements have been contradictory to what the families of the abducted Indians have said.
The minister said her deputy, V K Singh, had travelled to Iraq on the very next day of ISIS being overthrown from Mosul (July 9 this year). Senior Iraqi officials told him that they had information of the Indians being picked up from Mosul airfield three years ago and after holding them in captivity for some time, they were made to work in a hospital and then in agriculture fields. Thereafter they were in early 2016 shifted to the prison at Badush, some 30-km away of Mosul town, she said. “That is their last known location,” she said, adding she had informed the families of the victims about them.
Bajwa said the Badush jail was demolished three months ago. “They have misled the Parliament. They have misled the country,” he said. “Provide one proof for why you say they are alive,” added, while calling for an all-party delegation to be sent to Iraq to get a first-hand account of the situation.