Missing Indians in Iraq: Is Modi government misleading the country?
It should go all out to and find the truth about the 39 hostages.
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As many as 39 Indian labourers, mostly from Punjab, were abducted by the ISIS around mid-June in 2014 from Iraq's Mosul. Informing Parliament, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj recently said: "Sources there told VK Singh that the missing Indians are most probably in a jail in Badush where fighting is still going on."
However, a reality check in Iraq has revealed that there was no sign of the missing Indians in the restive region. The jail had been flattened to the ground.
So, is the government misleading the nation on the missing Indians in Iraq?
The external affairs minister, on one hand, said the abducted Indians could be in jail, on the other, BJP chief Amit Shah comes to the minister’s rescue and said the government is not misleading the nation and the search is underway to locate the 39 missing Indians.
Clearly, it seems the party doesn't have any credible information on Indians trapped in Iraq. The external affairs ministry should have verified the information before coming out publicly.
Buildings in ruins in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq. (Credit: Reuters photo for representative purpose).
The issue echoed in Parliament when SAD MP Prem Singh Chandumajra sought answers from the government on the issue. He said most of the missing citizens are from Punjab and “the truth must be let out”.
The Opposition has decided to corner the government on this issue in Parliament. The Congress has said it would submit a privilege motion against the minister in the Lok Sabha for "misleading the nation, Parliament and families" of the kidnapped Indians. Rajya Sabha Congress MP Partap Singh Bajwa said he would move a privilege motion against Swaraj for “lying to the Lok Sabha” about the whereabouts of 39 Indian youths missing in Iraq.
Bajwa, has also demanded a parliamentary committee to look into the issue and said it should be sent to Mosul in Iraq to know the reality first-hand. “VK Singh should also go."
The fact is, India pushed for information about the 39 Indians after Iraqi forces liberated Mosul this July after three years. The Indian government had sent two delegations to Iraq to check how these people could be traced and rescued. The Iraqi mission reiterated the move. But still there is no news on the whereabouts of the missing Indians.
In early June, a report surfaced that a group of 25 Indians were sighted near a church in an area controlled by the Islamic State. But Iraqi Ambassador to India, Fakhri H Al-Issa, said: "I don't want to say anything. I have no information. Sometimes no news is good news. They might be in Badush prison."
This further heightened the uncertainty about the missing Indians.
Even the visiting Iraqi foreign minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said, “Have no substantial evidence that they were killed/still alive, can't give anything in that regard.” Does it mean that our external affairs minister was just beating around the bush, the ministry has had no information and was just misleading the nation? It is nothing but egg on her face.
Swaraj, along with MoS for MEA MJ Akbar and MoS VK Singh, had met the families of the 39 missing Indians. She had assured the families saying, "Once fighting stops in Badush and the area is cleared, we can probably find out about the whereabouts of the missing nationals."
Now that the situation has returned back to normal, the government should go all out to find the truth about these people.
The government insists that without information otherwise, the workers are still considered alive. But Harjit Masih, the only Indian to have escaped ISIS's clutches, claimed to have witnessed the execution of the others. He has claimed that ISIS terrorists abducted him and the other Indians on June 11, 2014, and executed them near Badush deserts on June 15.
He said, "I have repeated it so many times... they took us in a container-like truck... we were lined up and shot from behind, I was the only survivor, I called names of my friends but nobody replied... they were all dead, around that area I saw many dead bodies rotting." But the government has rejected his version.
After his return to Gurdaspur's Kala Afghana village, Masih now is facing a difficult time. He says, "They are blaming me for the missing 39 Indians. I have been booked by police. My life has become hell... is it my fault that I managed to escape? Sometimes I feel I too should have died."
According to this report, he also alleged that he was promised a government job for keeping quiet (about the entire episode). “But, as I opened by mouth, I was implicated in a fake case and sent to jail for six months. My father died during this period. Even now, intelligence agencies visit me regularly,” he added.
Why should a person who escaped the death be hounded and humiliated?
If Masih is lying why has the government not been able to produce proof that the 39 hostages are still alive?
The families have been given false assurances in every meeting that they have held with the ministers. In recent times, the government has been giving a lot of assurances. First it said the missing men were at a Church in Mosul, then it said they were in the Badush prison. Now, there are reports that the prison has been completely destroyed.
In any case, one is compelled to believe that the government is clueless about the missing Indians in Iraq and its vacillation on the issue is nothing more than misleading the country.