Chennai: Five Indian fishermen, who were spared the death sentence in Sri Lanka and released on Wednesday, reached their hometown in Rameswaram on Friday to reunite with their families after three years.
All five fishermen along with the High Commissioner of India,YK Sinha and other officials arrived in Chennai from Colombo late on Thursday night.
Emerson, P Augustus, R Wilson, K Prasath and J Langlet, who were released by Sri Lankan authorities were first flown to Delhi from Colombo in an Air India flight. As per the airport officials, they reached there at 1.05 am.
The five men - who have been waiting to reunite with their families for the past three years - were taken to an undisclosed location in the national capital when they were reportedly interviewed by the Intelligence Bureau officials.
However, the decision to take them to Delhi spoiled the mood of their families and local politicians, who had reached the Tiruchirapalli airport to receive them. They had to return home empty handed after learning that the five fishermen were taken to Delhi.
The delayed reunion of the men with their families has also evoked sharp criticism from Tamil Nadu based political parties, which have accused the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre of trying to take credit for their release.
The AIADMK has accused the BJP of trying to take credit for their release in a bid to make inroads ahead of the 2016 polls in Tamil Nadu, where the party won a single seat in the May national election.
Asked whether his party viewed the fishermen's release as a diplomatic victory that would boost the BJP in Tamil Nadu, Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan said, "It is not the BJP's victory, it is a victory of our government, our Prime Minister. We don't look at any politics on this."
"The BJP is trying to claim credit for the return of the fishermen and score over Tamil Nadu political parties," MH Jawaharullah, an Opposition legislator who represents Rameswaram, where the fishermen live, was quoted as saying.
Interestingly, Jawaharullah was one among those who had gathered at the Tiruchirapalli airport to receive the fishermen. Meanwhile, senior BJP leaders have praised PM Modi's leadership for securing the release of the five fishermen.
“It's heartwarming, It is due to efforts of Central Govt: GVL Narasimha of the BJP said.
“Welcome decision, India’s voice is being taken seriously ever since Modi ji became PM,” Nalin Kohli of the BJP said while reacting to the reports of release of five Indian fishermen
Meanwhile, the Congress had on Thursday refused to give any credit to the BJP government at Centre for secuing the release of five fishermen. The party said that the release of five Indian fishermen by Sri Lanka happened because of the respect which India commands internationally.
"Well the fact is that the Sri Lankan government is a sovereign government. If they have taken a decision to release Indian fishermen, it is obviously a welcome decision. But, for the BJP to pat itself on the back or to credit the Prime Minister, is bit of a stretch. After all, Indian diplomacy or India's clout within the region is not something which started on the 26th of May, 2014, it predates or it backdates the current administration by years and decades," Congress leader and former union minister Manish Tewatri was quoted as saying by the ANI.
" It is India's intrinsic resilience, India's strength, the respect which we have not only in the region but around the world, which ensures that foreign governments are sensitive to India's concerns. And this kind of back patting or trying to credit 'A' individual or 'B' individual is the complete antithesis of what foreign policy is," he added.
The five men were sentenced to death last month by a court in Colombo after being held guilty of smuggling drugs into the country. They were arrested in 2011. Their sentence was commuted by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Wednesday and they were handed over to Indian officials in Colombo.
The Indian government had challenged the conviction in Sri Lanka's Supreme Court and over the weekend, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had spoken to President Rajapaksa on the phone.
Their sentencing triggered large protests in Tamil Nadu, which says its fishermen are unfairly targeted and arrested by the Lankan Navy.