Cong turns privilege heat on Sushma for 'misleading' House on slain Indians

New Delhi: The Congress on Thursday decided to move a privilege motion against external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj in the Rajya Sabha for “misleading” the House on the death of 39 Indians in Iraq.

Leading the charge against Ms Swaraj, two Congress Rajya Sabha MPs from Punjab, Ambika Soni and Partap Singh Bajwa, said that Ms Swaraj misled the nation and the victims’ families about their deaths for four years.

Daring Ms Swaraj to make public the sources who formed the basis of her earlier claims that the 39 Indians kidnapped by ISIS were alive, the Congress MPs said they will move a motion against the minister in the Upper House after compiling documents and information on the issue.

Speaking to reporters, Ms Soni said, “I accuse Sushma Swaraj of misleading the House. The minister’s statement in the House is an assurance. She gave an assurance that these people were alive. Our sources have proved right and her confidential sources have proved wrong.”

“We have continuously tried to raise the issue, but Ms Swaraj always said she cannot share the sources nor any document and always claimed that they are alive. The government’s efforts to put a cover on the issue led to misconceptions among the families of the deceased,” Ms Soni said.

Parliamentary privileges are certain rights or immunities enjoyed by MPs, individually and collectively, so that they can effectively discharge their functions. When any of these rights and immunities is disregarded, the offence is called a breach of privilege and is punishable under law of Parliament.

Mr Bajwa attacked the government for its “clumsy” handling of the issue and for ignoring the statement of lone survivor Harjit Masih who managed to escape from ISIS captivity in June 2014. He had claimed that the others had been killed.

“Today, Harjit Masih’s statement has been pro-ved right. I want to ask Sushma Swaraj what are her sources? The entire country wants to know. Why did she play with the sentiments of these people?” asked Mr Bajwa.

The Congress MP demanded that the government should pay a compensation of `1 crore each to the families of the 39 slain workers.

Ms Swaraj earlier said that the government does not believe in declaring a person “missing, believed killed”.

“I refused to close the files (of the 39 Indians) till we had concrete proof in hand (about their death),” she had said.

On Tuesday, Ms Swaraj had reiterated in Parliament that Mr Masih’s account of the massacre of 39 Indians was not correct.

Reacting to the complaints of victims’ kin, Ms Swaraj had said that her ministry never kept the families in the dark nor did it lie to the nation. “Some family members asked why I informed Parliament, and not the families first. I had promised earlier to disclose this to Parliament first if the House is in session,” she said.

On Thursday, the war of words between the ruling BJP and the Congress over the 39 Indians’ death intensified.

Launching a stinging attack on the government, Congress president Rahul Gandhi said that the government invented a story on data theft by the Congress to divert attention from the death of 39 Indians in Iraq.

The BJP hit back saying Mr Gandhi was playing politics over the dead bodies of innocent victims. Responding to the Congress president’s allegation, Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, “All I will tell Rahul Gandhi he should not do politics on dead bodies of Indians who lost their lives in very unfortunate circumstances.”

A privilege motion can be moved against an individual, any in-House committee or even the entire House.

The Speaker/Chairman has the authority to admit or dismiss the motion. If accepted, the Speaker can seek the services of “Committee of Privileges” to establish the allegations with facts. The committee may also recommend any punishment, which the Speaker may or may not accept.

In short, a privilege motion is similar to censure motion with the exception that a privilege motion does not force the Council of Ministers to resign.

In 1961, Blitz editor R.K. Karanjia was held guilty of gross breach of privilege of the Lok Sabha for publishing an article that criticised veteran leader J.B. Kripalani. The editor was summoned to the bar of the Lok Sabha and reprimanded, while the Lok Sabha gallery pass of his correspondent, R.K. Raghavan, was cancelled.