NEW DELHI: External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj may have moved swiftly to soothe African tempers following the killing of a Congolese national last week, but one of her cabinet colleagues on Friday gave a new twist to the diplomatic face-off by asserting that African countries were not safe as well.
Union minister for tourism and culture, Mahesh Sharma, told a news agency, “India is a large country and such incidents will give a bad name to India. It is an unfortunate incident. However, even Africa is not safe.”
His comments could embarrass the government and further complicate the situation at a time when African nations have asked the Centre to take concrete steps against problems of “racism and Afro-phobia” in India.
Slipping into damage control mode after African heads of missions upped the ante, Swaraj on Wednesday spoke to Delhi lieutenant-governor Najeeb Jung about the murder of 29-year-old Masunda Kitada Oliver and asked for the case to be tried in a fast-track court. She said the government had ordered stringent action against the culprits and would launch a sensitisation programme to stop such incidents.
In an apparent backlash against the May 20 murder, local residents in Congo’s capital Kinshasa fired shots and attacked shops owned by Indians earlier this week.
Sharma narrated his own experiences in Africa to flag concerns about safety issues there. “When I went to South Africa, I was stopped from going for a morning walk at 6am by people in the hotel, citing security reasons. My post-dinner walk was also dropped for the same reasons. It’s not fair to say that India is unsafe,” he said.
African countries had initially decided to boycott the Centre’s Africa Day celebrations on Thursday as a mark of protest. But they climbed down from their stand after junior foreign minister VK Singh appealed to African heads of missions to continue the tradition of celebrating Africa Day and reassured them of the safety of their nationals. Swaraj had delegated Singh to meet the envoys.
Sharma said his ministry has introduced measures to ensure the safety of foreign nationals. “The tourism ministry has introduced a helpline number 1363 for foreign nationals. We also issue certain do’s and don’ts for them here.”