Chennai: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday broke his silence on the release of Abhinandan Varthaman – the Indian Air Force pilot who was captured last week by Pakistan – only to say that he does not wish to repeat how he was ‘returned in two days’. Subsequently, he gave examples where the government had secured the release of Indians from other nations.
“I don’t want to repeat how Abhinandan returned in two days… Tamil Nadu fishermen facing death in Lanka were rescued… On the intervention of the government, the Saudi Prince would soon release 850 Indian prisoners,” the prime minister said.
Abhinandan Varthaman was released on Friday – hours after India demanded his “immediate and safe return”.
And though Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan claimed the release was a “gesture of peace”, New Delhi rubbished it, claiming it was India’s right under the Geneva Conventions. Imran Khan’s announcement on the release on Thursday was preceded by much behind-the-scene manoeuvring by the international community.
While US President Donald Trump had indicated a role, UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed made phone calls to Imran Khan and PM Modi, stressing – according to a tweet – “the importance of dealing wisely and giving priority to dialogue and communication”. The Saudi Finance Minister flew to Islamabad and the Saudi envoy met PM Modi in Delhi. There has been no official comment from the Indian government on these efforts.
Union minister Smriti Irani and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had credited the Prime Minister. In an apparent reference to PM Modi, Smriti Irani said the pilot’s return was due to the “parakram (valour) of an RSS volunteer”. Yogi Adityanath said PM Modi had warned Pakistan not to harm him. As the Wing Commander was released last week, PM Modi had tweeted a welcome.
At a function later, he said the word “Abhinandan” used to mean welcome, but its meaning would change now. The 35-year-old pilot was captured on Wednesday after he shot down a Pakistani F16 fighter jet during an aerial dogfight. On his return, he has been hailed as a national hero.