Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Tuesday said he was “shattered at the heart-wrenching news” that 39 Indians, kidnapped by Islamic State, had been killed in Iraq.
His Congress colleague Partap Singh Bajwa and Aam Aadmi Party’s Kanwar Sandhu also expressed their grief and targeted External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj for misleading the families of those who had died.
Sandhu also asked for the minister’s resignation.
As many as 40 Indians were abducted by the terrorist organisation in June 2015 from Mosul in Iraq but one of them escaped by posing as a Muslim from Bangladesh, Swaraj said in a statement in the Rajya Sabha.
'Shattered at the heart-wrenching news from @SushmaSwaraj that the 39 Indians missing in Iraq, most of whom were Punjabis, are dead. My heart goes out to the families who had been living in hope since their reported abduction by ISIS in 2014. Prayers with all of them,' Amarinder Singh said on Twitter.
In the letter to Swaraj, Singh urged her to provide ex gratia and all necessary assistance to the families of the 39 killed in performing the last rites.
While the state government had been providing a monthly assistance of Rs 20,000 to the family members of the victims, the chief minister said that he would be grateful if the Centre could also give them due assistance.
Singh said it has come as a shock to the families and to everyone else in Punjab, as they had been hoping and praying for the well-being of the hostages.
The chief minister also spoke to Swaraj over phone requesting her to ensure that no stone is left unturned by the central government in ensuring that the mortal remains of the deceased are brought back to India for last rites.
The external affairs minister assured Singh that the Indian government was making arrangements to bring back the mortal remains of the deceased, which were exhumed from a mass grave in Badush -- a village northwest of Mosul in Iraq.
The chief minister told her that the Punjab government would make arrangements for the coffins to be delivered to the families of the victims and asserted that he has already directed the state government officials to personally visit the bereaved families.
Congress leader and Rajya Sabha member Partap Singh Bajwa added that he was saddened by the news confirming the deaths of those missing in Iraq and his thoughts and prayers are with their families.
'Why did Sushma Swaraj mislead the families for more than 3 years? This is complete failure of MEA & GOI,' he tweeted.
'I raised this issue many a times in Rajya Sabha that why is the government playing with emotions of families by giving them false hopes. Can there be anything more shameful than this?' Bajwa added.
Bajwa appealed to the government of India and Punjab government to provide all possible help and financial aid to the families.
Aam Aadmi Party leader and Kharar MLA Kanwar Sandhu demanded the resignation of the union minister.
'Sushma Swaraj should resign as external affairs minister taking responsibility for the lies she spread about the 39 missing Indians in Iraq,' Sandhu said in a tweet.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor also slammed the government for “encouraging” the families of the 39 Indians kidnapped in Iraq to believe they were alive, a charge countered by Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal who said it was important to verify the facts.
Giving falsehood to people is actually cruel and suggests a certain level of lack transparency on part of the government, Tharoor said.
It is better to be honest, he added.
"My prayers for the families who have lost their near ones after being really encouraged by the government for four years to believe that these people were alive," he told reporters outside Parliament.
Hitting back, Union Food Processing Minister and Akali Dal MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal accused the opposition leaders of playing politics over an unfortunate incident.
Defending the government, she said it took every measure to verify if even one of those kidnapped was alive.
"Do you not think that it is the job of the government and especially the external affairs ministry to carry on looking for even one proof, even one person being alive until the all doors have been shut," the minister told reporters.
Defending External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Badal said the former 'carried on the fight' trying to look for those who had been kidnapped.
"She (Swaraj) went on to the extent of having DNA sent over there and had proper proof that yes they are dead. She stood up in the Parliament and said yes I tried but I could not and today we have a proof," the minister added.
Congress Communications in-charge Randeep Surjewala said the Modi government has crossed all limits of insensitivity as it preferred to make the announcement of deaths of 39 Indians on television than call up every families of those dead.
"Modi Government has crossed all limits of insensitivity. The Indian Government had on seven occasions told the families of the 39 Indians kinapped by ISIS in Iraq that they are alive. The question is why did the Modi Government mislead the nation and the family members of those Indians kidnapped by ISIS," he told reporters.
The Congress leader said that if the government had some humanity left, Swaraj should visit each family. The government should also grant adequate compensation and an honourable funeral, as it has been keeping the families of the killed in the dark and has given them false hopes.
"At least there should not have been politics on the death of these Indians. Unfortunately, the Modi government is doing politics on this which is condemnable," Surjewala said.
The Congress leader also claimed that the government hurriedly made the announcement as it feared being 'exposed' by an Iraqi group called Martyrs Foundation.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi expressed shock and his deepest condolences at the death of 39 Indians in captivity in Iraq.
His party colleague Ghulam Nabi Azad, leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha, added that it was not just a tragedy for the families but for the entire country.
'I’m shocked to hear that 39 Indians who were in captivity since 2014, in Iraq, are now confirmed dead.
'My deepest condolences to the families of those who have lived in hope, that their loved ones will return unharmed. My thoughts and prayers are with all of you today,' Gandhi said on Twitter.
Adding that the entire country was sad, Azad said the ministry of external affairs had forcefully asserted in Parliament last year that they are alive but was now saying they are dead.
National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said it was 'unpardonable' that the families had to learn about their heartbreaking loss from television channels instead of the government.
'Nothing Govt of India says can make up for the sheer heartlessness displayed today. Using Parliament as an excuse for the families of 39 dead Indians having to learn of their heartbreaking loss from TV channels is unpardonable (sic),' Omar said in a tweet.
Abdullah said senior officials in the Ministry of External Affairs should have personally informed each of the 39 families before the news was made public.
'Senior people in MEA, if not the Minister & her junior minister themselves, should have spoken to each of the 39 families before the news of the deaths was made public,' he tweeted.
Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Mohammad Salim said this showed how "insensitive and inhuman" the government is. "It is a farce. The government should have contacted the families of the victims first before Parliament was informed."