New Delhi: "I am not helpless. I am a very influential External Affairs Minister."
This is how Sushma Swaraj replied to a taunt by an opposition leader in the Rajya Sabha on Monday while she was speaking on the issue of plight of fishermen and how the issue has been taken up with Sri Lanka.
Rajeev Shukla (Cong) had said the remarks by Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe about "right to shoot intruder" in the context of Indian fishermen was a slap on the face of India and showed helplessness of External Affairs Minister "who is not even allowed to share dais with (US President Barack) Obama" during his recent visit here.
He said even the neighbouring nations had started taking India lightly after Prime Minister Narendra Modi rolled out red carpet for their leaders during his oath ceremony in May last year.
Deputy Chairman P J Kurien wanted the word "helpless" to be expunged but Swaraj said there was no need for it.
In a retort to Shukla's remarks, Swaraj said, "I am not helpless. I am a very influential External Affairs Minister. During President Obama's visit I sat with my PM where I should have been seated. You see the pictures."
Replying to clarifications sought by members on the
fishermen issue, Swaraj said she had, during her recent visit to Sri Lanka, strongly put forth India's views and comments by Wickremesinghe who had suggested that Indian fishermen may be shot if they intruded into his country's waters.
"I share your outrage and pain. I have strongly placed before Sri Lankan PM Wickramasinghe in his territory that such remarks were improper and objectionable, which was not contradicted by them. We are keeping a close eye on the issue," she said.
The Minister said she had in-camera talks with the Sri Lankan PM on Tamil fishermen issue but External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin had within half-an-hour held a press conference, stating that India objected to Sri Lankan PM's remarks.
"There is no reply to our objection and we consider it retraction," she said, adding "Their (Sri Lanka) silence translates that they have understood our point."
She added, "I am proud to state that after the present government took over, not a single Indian fisherman was killed there. There was a date when we achieved zero-zero status which meant there was no fisherman arrested or captive in either India or Sri Lanka."
Earlier over 500 fishermen were killed by Sri Lankan Navy, Swaraj said.