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English translation of ​Response by External Affairs Minister in Rajya Sabha regarding 39 Indian nationals missing in Iraq (July 27, 2017)

July 28, 2017

External Affairs Minister, Smt. Sushma Swaraj: Thank you Deputy Chairman Sir, I do not want to react, I want to respond. Deputy Chairman Sir, eight days back i.e. on 19 July, 2017, during the Zero hour, Sardar Pratap Singh Bajwa Ji raised the issue of 39 Indians who were abducted in Iraq. At that time Shri Pramod Tiwari, Smt. Ambika Soni, Shri Shamsher Singh Dhulo, Shri Digvijay Singh, Shri K Rehman Khan, Smt. Renuka Chowdhary, Shri Ripun Bora and few other members of parliaments also attached themselves to the subject.

It is the obligation of my duty that I must answer all the questions raised on this very serious subject by Bajwa Ji in this house. It would have been better if he would have been present here now, but Mr. Anand Sharma Ji and other colleagues of Congress are present here who can tell what answers I have given to his questions.

Deputy Chairman Sir, that day Bajwa Ji was very angry hence he used very attacking language. He made certain allegations against me and also on government, however looking at the seriousness of the subject I will not speak in resentment. I will answer his question very decently because it is not my aim to make accusations, my aim is to provide satisfactory resolution to him and to the House, because many a thing are spoken due to the lack of information.

Deputy Chairman Sir, first thing that he said, ‘Minister said they are very much alive; they are in Mosul and they would ensure that everybody comes out safely.’ Deputy Chairman Sir, I have never said this thing either in the House or outside anywhere else. On 24 November, 2014, there was a discussion on this topic in both the houses and it was me only who had started those discussions because just a day prior to those discussions two people from Bangladesh had said Harjeet Masih is telling them that those people have been killed. Therefore I myself came to the House and had put my point clearing the air around it. At that time Bajwa Ji was not a member of Rajya Sabha, he was a member of Lok Sabha.

Sir, he did not listen what I had said in the Rajya Sabha, but he did hear whatever I said in the Lok Sabha. Since, proceedings of other house cannot be read here, so I have brought it in written form. I will give it to Shri Anand Sharma Ji so that he can see what I had said in the Lok Sabha. If he is saying on the basis of that, then I have said the same thing over there also.

Sir, what I had said in the Rajya Sabha, all the colleagues are sitting here and they know, I had said, "Today I don’t have any concrete evidence of them being alive and neither do I have any proof of them being dead, but I am saying this the day I got a concrete evidence of anyone who can validate what Harjeet has been saying, then I will confess this. Right now we don’t have anybody who can validate what Harjeet has been saying.” After that I said, "After Harjeet’s story we had two options, first that we believe it is true and declare them dead and stop searching for them. Second option, because of contradictions in his statement we would not accept his version and we keep on searching for them. So it was not only the obligation of wisdom but it was also obligation of government’s responsibility that discarding his statement we must engage in their search and that is what we did.

After that I say this to the House that now the House should tell me whether I should believe in Harjeet’s statement and stop their search or I should believe in our other good sources who are giving us hope that they have not been killed and keep on searching for them? I believe it is the obligation of my wisdom that I should continue with the search and it is the obligation of my responsibility also that I should continue with the search.

After that I say this to all of you that the path which I have taken, leaving first option and searching for them, so this house should give me permission.” I not only inform did the House but I had also sought permission from the House. Further I said, "This House should give me permission that I should move on that path and we must pray from God that they all are safe and come back home.”

Sir, at that time, all the members, some by patting table, some by giving indications and some by their nod, gave me permission and only you were the chairperson at that time. At that you had said Mr. Deputy Chairman: "Now, let us hope for good news and let us pray for them.”

Deputy Chairman Sir, I had never once said that they are alive. I had never once said that I ensure their safe return. I had said that you all pray they are safe and they come back. I had said that I do not have any concrete evidence of their death or them being alive. So please tell Bajwa Ji that what he said that I had said it on floor of the House that is completely baseless.

Sir, after that he said another thing, "You please see what has been done, what is Government of India doing? Now they are saying that they are not in Mosul, nearby there is village named Badush, they have been taken there.”

Deputy Chairman Sir, I have never said this thing. Whole House knows that on the 9th Iraqi Prime Minister announced that Mosul has been liberated from ISIS. Fulfilling its responsibility government sent General V K Singh to Mosul on the very next day i.e. on the 10th.

Shri Bajwa Ji has just come into the House. Whatever I have spoken prior to now, Shri Anand Sharma Ji will tell you, but right now I am at your page number two where you have said that what is the government doing, now government is saying that they have been taken to Badush.

Deputy Chairman Sir, General Singh stayed there for two days but when no information could be gathered he went to Baghdad, there he had talks with a very senior official of Iraq. He showed General Singh a report which was in Arabic and then translated it in English to General Singh. He said according to our reports they were captured in Mosul Airfield, held captive for some days and then they were engaged in hospital construction work. Later after some days they were engaged in farming. In the beginning of 2016 they all were taken to Badush Prison, this is the last information, after that we have not had any contact with them.

This thing that they have been taken to Badush, that officer had said that it was done in the beginning of 2016. This picture which shows that Badush Prison has been destroyed, this is three months old. Start of 2016 means that now it has been around one and a half years. He said that, "We don’t have any information.” Immediately I called their family members. As soon as I got the information that General Singh will be coming next day, I immediately called them to be here on the next day. So I informed all these things, as they were, to all of them and then I asked General Singh that since you had spoken about it so you must tell them directly. So he told them this thing, "In the beginning of 2016, they all were taken to Badush Prison, after that we don’t have any contact with them, this is our last information.”

This is being said by a senior official of Iraq to the foreign minister of the country. After that I had said the same thing while addressing the media that they are saying, "They were taken to Badush Prison in the beginning of 2016, after that we do not have any information.” Now a senior official of a country is saying these words to foreign minister of another country, so we told the very same thing, without adding any comma or removing any full stop, to their family members and later we told the same to the media in front of everybody. Now Bajwa Ji is accusing us and saying, "They are changing the goal post. This shows the credibility of the NDA government. How do we protect our people?”

Bajwa Ji, whether you may say anything but how do we protect our people, for this thing not only this House is a witness to that but the whole country is also witness to that. Everybody says, "Relief for stranded persons abroad is a tweet away; just a tweet away.” I am saying this to the whole House that if any person can say this to me, who has come to me and had asked help for someone stranded abroad and I did not provide that help. I must tell you, Deputy Chairman Sir, you yourself have witnessed this, how many letters you have written to me and how many times you have requested me.

Anand Bhai, we have brought 80,000 people in last three years, 80,000 people. This figure of 80,000 is of whom? Deputy Chairman Sir, this figure of 80,000 is of only those people for whom we have bought tickets from our own money. This figure does not include those people who bought their own tickets and just sought help from us. This does not include 1,05,000 people which we have brought back from Nepal. This does not include 31,000 people whom we are helping in Saudi Amnesty, 80,000 stranded people.

You talk about Father Tom. How many times you have written to me! We also brought even the kidnapped ones… (Interruption)

The kidnapped and abducted people, you know that we brought back Father Prem Kumar, we brought back Judith. We brought two abducted sailors from Nigeria, we brought abducted sailors from Somalia and Sudan. That day you have also written to me for Father Tom. When Foreign Minister of Yemen came here, I told him that my first request to you would be to please bring him. Hence, saying this, "How do we protect our people”, this question is asked from us and it is said that this is an issue of Credibility of government. At the least no one can question this government’s credibility with regard to protection of its people, I want to say this in front of you.

Sir, there is one another thing which he said. At the end he said, first he said, "You must answer where our young people are or be brave enough and apologize that you have erred and our young people are no more now.” Bajwa Ji, what should I apologize for? What do you want me to apologize for, that I haven’t declared them dead? Should I apologize for this thing? You mean that I must apologize and say that those young men are no more?

Deputy Chairman Sir, standing on the floor of this House I want to say that instead of apologizing I would like to repeat that till the time I have any evidence of them being killed, I won’t declare them dead, I would not declare that they are deceased. Deputy Chairman Sir, saying that someone is dead, someone is deceased, this is a crime at the personal level and it is irresponsible at the level of government.

Hence, neither will I do this irresponsible thing and nor would I commit this crime. But I would like to say this to Bajwa Ji, if he is convinced by his inner self that those people have been killed, I am giving false statement, I am giving false consolation, then you are free, you can gather family members of all those persons and tell them do not trust Sushma Swaraj, she is showing you wrong direction, she is giving false hopes, you must do the Ardasa and move on.

Now this is unto their families whether they believe or not, hence I want to say this, and not only Bajwa Ji ….(Interruption)

Shri Pratap Singh Bajwa: Sir…….(Interruption)

External Affairs Minister, Smt. Sushma Swaraj: Let me speak once. Not only Bajwa Ji, any leader, any MP, any journalist or media person, if they believe and if they are convinced that they have been killed, then they can say this thing on their own responsibility, I will not say it. If their family members also believe that I am giving false assurance, I am making false statement, their children have been killed then they are also free to perform the Ardasa but if anyone from them comes out to alive then it will be their responsibility, it won’t be my responsibility. But here I would like to say one thing, since he has said that I am misleading. He has also said this at the end, "This is my request not to sit on it like this, don’t mislead the country, don’t mislead the parliament, it is the question of credibility of whole country, if Foreign Minister will do this then who will have faith in such government, this is what I have to say.”

First thing you had said that don’t sit on it like this. Bajwa Ji, we are not sitting with folded arms. Deputy Chairman Sir, we have sought help from all such countries which could help us in this issue. Just now I said, "On 9th Prime Minister of Iraq says that Mosul has been liberated and on 10th General V K Singh reached there.” Are we just sitting like this? We are not sitting with folded arms.

Secondly, you are saying that don’t mislead, I would like to ask this question very politely that why would I mislead? Please tell me why would I mislead, what benefit will accrue to me because of this, because misleading while standing in parliament is a crime. Someone will do this crime if there is some benefit to them or to their government. Please tell me what will I benefit from misleading? What benefit will my government get by misleading? So I am not misleading.

I will just say one thing and then sit down that the day I get any evidence, a concrete evidence, once I get that then without delay, if there is an ongoing parliament session then I will seek permission from the Chair and stop the proceedings and I will present that information here. If the parliament is not in session then with in ten minutes I will provide the information to the whole country on twitter.

If their families would not telephone on their own, then we will telephone them and call them here. If there is good news then I will participate in their celebrations and if the news is bad then I will participate in their sorrow, but I will not declare them dead without any evidence. Repeating it once again, I would end it here.

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