Monday November 19, 2018
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Only regret has been the failure to bring back the 39 abducted Indians: Sushma Swaraj

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Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj (Photo: IANS)
Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj (Photo: IANS)

New Delhi: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said on Sunday that her “only regret” in her year in office has been the failure so far to bring back the 39 abducted Indians from Iraq, which she hoped to do soon.

“My only regret is that while we have evacuated thousands of our nationals from Iraq, Ukraine, Yemen, Libya, but the 39 Indians remain in Iraq. I feel my wait will end very soon and we will be successful in bringing them back,” she said at a press conference.

To a question on the fate of the 39 Indians labourers who were abducted by the Islamic State militants a year ago in Mosul, Sushma Swaraj said she has been told by “eight sources” that the men are still alive.

“I have eight sources who say they are alive.. not oral messages but ‘likhit sandesh’ (written messages),” she said, adding that she has shared them with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and her ministerial colleagues Arun Jaitley and Harsimrat Kaur Badal.

She also discounted the version of one of the men who escaped, Harjit Masih, who has claimed that the men were shot dead.

Sushma Swaraj said she treats the search for the men not just as a responsibility but a mission. She said she has spoken to the Middle East countries on the issue more than once.

“I will continue the search and not believe in what that person has said,” she said, referring to Masih.

Giving a break-up of the Indians evacuated from different countries, Sushma Swaraj said that the government had brought back 1,000 students from Ukraine when the crisis unfolded, 7,000 Indians from Iraq when the Islamic State began running over swathes of the country and 4,500 Indians as well as foreign nationals from Yemen earlier this year.

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India Begins Its Election Season With Five States

The BJP has sent top leaders to campaign in Chhattisgarh.

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India, elections
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he addresses the gathering during the 'Global Mobility Summit' in New Delhi, India, VOA

India began on Monday the first of five state elections to be held in coming weeks, important tests for Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he plots a course that he hopes will ensure him victory in a general election due by May.

Voters in the central state of Chhattisgarh went to the polls on Monday to elect representatives for 18 of the state assembly’s 90 seats in a staggered poll complicated by logistical problems and left-wing guerrillas.

The state of about 26 million people has been ruled by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) since 2003, and he will be hoping to hold on to power.

India, elections
Prime Minister Narendra Modi Continues To Stay Mum On The #MeToo Movement. Wikimedia Commons

“Some unholy people have handed guns to children who should have pens in their hands,” Modi told a rally in the state on Friday, referring to the rag-tag guerrillas battling government forces from forest hideouts. “They’ve finished the lives of our tribal children.”

Hundreds of election workers had to be flown in to remote polling stations by helicopter because of the danger posed by the rebels.

Modi called for voters to back his BJP and its vision of “development for all.”

The final phase of voting in Chhattisgarh, which is known for its coal, iron ore and bauxite reserves, will be on Nov. 20.

India,India, elections
India’s Congress party President Rahul Gandhi displays documents as he accuses Narendra Modi’s government of buying 36 Rafale fighter jets from France’s Dassault at a highly inflated price, in New Delhi, India. VOA

The BJP was the preference of about 43 percent of voters in Chhattisgarh, 7 percentage points ahead of the main opposition Congress party, according to a survey released last week by the Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

Modi’s other big tests will be in the neighboring central state of Madhya Pradesh, where the BJP is slightly ahead of Congress, according to polls, and in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, where Congress is expected to emerge victorious.

A good performance by the BJP in the elections would help it deflect growing criticism over unemployment and a crisis in the countryside over falling farm prices and wages.

India, elections
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Elections will also be held for assemblies in Telangana in the south and Mizoram in the northeast.

The BJP has sent top leaders to campaign in Chhattisgarh, including Yogi Adityanath, a firebrand Hindu priest and the BJP chief minister in Uttar Pradesh state.

Also Read: PM Narendra Modi Announces Easier Access to Credit

Adityanath has been appealing to the BJP’s Hindu-nationalist base and on Sunday accused the opposition of blocking construction of a temple for Hindu god Ram on a disputed site in Uttar Pradesh.

The destruction of a mosque on the site by a Hindu mob in 1992 sparked deadly riots across the country. (VOA)