Sushma, Chandy spar over expenses for Libya evacuation

A woman gets emotional while holding a child as the first batch of Keralites, evacuated from Libya, arrived at Kochi International Airport on Thursday.   | Photo Credit: PTI

A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi courted heavy flak on Twitter for equating infant mortality rates of Scheduled Tribes in Kerala with that of Somalia, Union Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj took to Twitter on Thursday to lash out at Chief Minister Oommen Chandy.

The spat, with only four days to go for the Assembly poll in Kerala, followed Mr. Chandy affirming that the Union government had only cared to “sympathise’’ with the plight of the 29 stranded Indians, including 16 Keralites, in strife-torn Libya, who finally arrived in Kochi on Thursday.

Mr. Chandy said in Kochi that he and State Culture Minister K.C. Joseph had gone to New Delhi “multiple times’’ to meet Ms. Swaraj to seek Central intervention for their return. “The Union government sympathised with us but observed that these Malayalis had chosen to stay back when the Centre had made arrangements for the return of all Indians stranded in Libya,” according to him. He asserted that the State government will foot the airfare bill for their return journey.

Angry tweets

Ms. Swaraj, who was indispose, hurled angry tweets at Mr. Chandy: “We evacuated thousands of Indians from Kerala from Iraq, Libya and Yemen. Who paid for them?’’ Sources in the Kerala government’s Department of Non Resident Keralites Affairs (NoRKA) told The Hindu that about 1,300 Keralites were evacuated with Central help in recent years from those countries.

“Mr. Chandy - You started this debate - as to Who paid? Not me. We always did this because this is our pious duty towards our citizens. Mr. Chandy - You said Kerala paid for 29 Indians evacuated from Libya.”

The Kerala Chief Minister, on his part, maintained that his own government had been closely monitoring their safety all through. "The State government had tried to buy them the air tickets but we could not owing to foreign exchange issues. We did not want to delay their return, so we asked them to pay up for the air tickets. We will now fully reimburse their airfare," he told the media in Kochi.

The fracas is also in the wake of Mr. Modi announcing in an NDA poll campaign meeting in Kochi on Wednesday that the Union government had managed to safely evacuate the 29 people belonging to Kerala and Tamil Nadu from Libya and ensure their safe return.

Mr. Chandy and Ms. Swaraj had earlier shared some spirited bonhomie, with Mr. Chandy lauding her successful efforts to bring back 46 nurses from conflict zones in Iraq. Mr. Chandy had then written to Ms. Swaraj thanking her for her “sincere and dedicated efforts.”

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Printable version | Mar 5, 2021 7:10:01 PM |

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