External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s return to Parliament Wednesday following an over six-month break for illness and recovery, a period during which she underwent a kidney transplant, saw members from across parties welcome her. When Sushma entered Lok Sabha around 12.05 pm, BJP members rose and thumping their desks. Dressed in a dark green saree, as is her custom on Wednesdays following a religious ritual, and clutching a bundle of files, Sushma took slow steps, escorted by a woman assistant from the Lok Sabha secretariat carrying a glass of water. She took her seat in the empty front benches. Speaker Sumitra Mahajan interrupted the routine of members tabling official papers and welcomed Sushma, who greeted everyone with folded hands and took a sip from the glass.
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“I have recovered thanks to your prayers and blessings of my Krishna,” Sushma said, before making a statement on crimes against Indians in the US. By then, the entire House had joined in the applause. Congress chief whip Jyotiraditya Scindia walked across from the Opposition benches to welcome her, sitting next to her. She thanked him and patted him on the back. Minister D V Sadananda Gowda crossed over from the next row; Sushma was heard telling him she was fine. Uma Bharti walked up, hugged Sushma and sat next to her.
“We welcome Sushmaji. May God bless you with a long life and we pray that you continue to serve the people,” Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said. Kharge reminded the House that the party had raised this issue of crimes against Indians in the US. In her statement, Sushma was aggressive as ever, taking a swipe at the Congress and Kharge who had alleged the government was “sitting idle”.
Terming these crimes “acts of individuals”, Sushma said India would not issue any advisory against travel to the US and added India has noted “widespread condemnation of these incidents by the US leadership, both in the administration and the Congress”, including by President Donald Trump . “The fact that broad sections of the American society have expressed their deep sorrow and regret over these incidents reassures us that despite these individual incidents, the American society values the people-to-people engagement of our two countries.”
About the allegation, she said, “I was not well but I did listen to Khargeji’s speech… He claimed we were sitting idle. I want to say, it is not in our work culture to sit idle. The PM, despite being busy in the election campaign, called every day to check what was being done towards the families of the victims.”
She recounted three attacks and said the Indian mission in the US and her ministry have been reaching out to the victims’ families and raising the issue at the highest levels in the US government. She said the FBI was probing the murder of engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla — whose friend Alok Madasani was injured — as a hate crime, the murder of Harnish Patel was likely the result of a robbery gone wrong, while probe agencies were yet to establish that the attack on Indian-origin US citizen Deep Rai was a hate crime.
“I personally spoke to the families of the victims. They have thanked the Indian government and the Indian high commission in the US for their support,” she said and read out from an email from Srinivas’s wife to the Indian mission. Breaking into Punjabi, Sushma said Rai’s father told her he was happy with the help received from the government. “The families themselves do not think that we have been sitting idle,” she said.
Sushma said while recovering at home, she had been keeping track of what was happening in Parliament on this issue. Sushma’s 20-minute speech did not draw any response from the Opposition. Speaker Mahajan lauded her, “Bahut dino baad aap ki damdaar awaaz is sadan mein goonji hain (your strong voice has echoed in the House after a long time)”. As Sushma left, BJP members scrambled to greet and walk her out.