39 Indians dead: Sushma Swaraj turned a moment of grief into an obscene quarrel

The killing of 39 Indians by ISIS in Iraq is a heart-rending tale of man’s inhumanity to man, but it has escalated into a controversy after EAM Sushma Swaraj said her ‘duty’ was first to Parliament

Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Raman Swamy

They were killed long ago. Killed by ISIS in Iraq. Thirty-nine Indian citizens. Ordinary labourers from Punjab, Himachal, Bihar and West Bengal. Out to earn a living, but trapped in an ugly war zone in Mosul far, far away from home. Caught in a violent and bloody conflict they had nothing to do with. Massacred (or executed) by the most vicious terror group in modern times.

Nobody really knows how they were killed (machine-gunned or beheaded or just buried alive). Nobody knows when exactly they died (maybe two years ago or even four years ago).

A horrendous story, which would have been just another heart-rending tale of man’s inhumanity to man in this age of death, devastation and despair. But on Tuesday, the posthumous announcement of confirmation of the deaths of 39 missing Indians escalated into a full-blown political controversy.

Instead of being a moment to collectively pause and grieve, it exploded into an obscene quarrel. It is difficult to put a finger on what happened in Parliament on Tuesday. It is impossible pinpoint what, or who, was to blame.

Perhaps it was the behaviour of the bereaved? But should the family members of the diseased be condemned and criticised for bursting into tears on hearing the news on television screens? Should the wives (who were already walking widows for four years), the aged mothers and fathers (who had hoped against hope and prayed to every god that their sons would be found alive), should the children in tattered clothes (clinging to their elders in a fear they did not comprehend) — should these deplorable villagers in rural Jalandhar and a dozen other places be reprimanded for wailing out loud in anger and anguish — “Why were we lied to? Why were we given false hope? Why were we not told earlier? Why did we have to hear about it on TV?”

Yes, the kith and kin were grievously at fault. They had no justification to doubt the intentions of the Government. They were guilty of unpatriotic behavior.

Did they not know the rules and procedures and protocols of the Parliament of India?

Not even a word of praise for a Minister who, being a woman, felt a deep empathy and had limitless compassion for the bereaved mothers and wives. A lady politician who never failed to ask any foreign dignitary she met—do you know where my 39 missing Indians are?

The Honorable Minister of External Affairs had no option but to inform both the hallowed Houses first before telling the families the news that the body of their loved one had finally been found in a filthy mound of mud somewhere in Iraq. What difference would it have made, anyway. Their sons and husbands had died a long time ago.

Why can’t everybody appreciate the wonderful work done by the Minister – and her two dedicated junior Ministers. And all the hard-working, patriotic officers and staff of the Indian Mission posted in the dangerous zones of war-ravaged West Asia. Not to forget the hundreds of employees in the Foreign Office who sacrificed their pleasures by constantly keeping vigil for four long years in the great search for the missing 39.

Not even a word of praise for a Minister, who felt a deep empathy and had limitless compassion for the bereaved mothers and wives. A politician who never failed to ask any foreign dignitary she met, formally or informally, during all those four long years, one single question – Do you know where my 39 missing Indians are?

The Minister really did care. That was the reason why the families were not informed that none of the 39 would ever come home. She did not want to break their hearts forever without confirming with forensic DNA matching tests that the decayed bodies exhumed from the mini-mass grave under the dirty mound of mud in Mosul were indeed their bodies of their sons and husbands and fathers.

That is also why she kept Parliament in the dark for two years and more. Of course everyone was sure the 39 missing men were dead. But being sure is not the same as being certain. No Minister worth her salt would ever announce a death without being certain and without DNA evidence. All through her illustrious career, the saintly minister had never believed in uttering any untruth.

It is also a matter of noble principles and high moral values. The values inculcated in her by the greatest leader the country has ever had — never to mislead the people of the country, never to make false promises, never to utter jumlas or make fact-free assertions.

Strictly speaking, as she was at pains to point out during her press conference defending herself, she had not made any fact-free statement on the floor of the House on the subject of the 39 missing Indians.

All she had repeatedly said in all her many parliamentary replies was that she could not go by eye-witness accounts that all the men had been killed — the eye-witness Harjit Masih had no proof to substantiate his claim.

Moreover, the fact that he was able to escape from ISIS captivity indicates his lack of integrity and loyalty. All the more because he claims to have changed his name and taken up a false Bangladeshi identity in order to slip away from the clutches of the dreaded Islamic State. How can such a traitor be relied upon? That is why he had to be kept locked up and subjected to sustained interrogation for three years since 2015 and is still in protective custody.

The minister and her two juniors, who flanked her during the extraordinary press conference, was adamant that she had not lied. Despite the fact that several TV channels showed clips of her stating , as recently as six months ago, that she had information from sources that all 39 are alive and are in a prison and are being fed properly.

Despite the fact that one TV journalist visited the prison site where the 39 missing Indians were supposedly lodged and found nothing but rubble. The TV footage, aired again on India Today TV, showed stark visuals of a barren tract of land where local citizens said the prison had once stood. It had been razed to the ground. According to the locals, all the inmates of the prison had either been machine-gunned to death in mass executions or else taken away when the ISIS warriors fled.

The Minister stuck valiantly to her stock reply — rooted in righteous moral values and principles — until and unless DNA proof was available, there was no way a unrighteous and humanitarian politician like her would ever declare someone dead.

The person who lacked all humanity and sense of righteousness, she said was Jyotiraditya Scindia, the Congress MP, who prevented her from speaking on the floor of the Lok Sabha on Tuesday. It revealed just how low Scindia and all the members of the Congress party could stoop.

She quoted the Speaker’s words—How can you be so insensitive? She added a few words of her own to describe the depths of degradation to which her political opponents had fallen—they are playing politics even with death and tragedy.

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines