Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankhar arrived in Doha on Sunday to represent India at the inauguration of the FIFA World Cup, even as family members of the eight retired Indian naval officers imprisoned in Qatar, have stepped up calls for the government to intervene in their release.
The former officers, who have been in custody for more than 80 days, have had some contact with their families and a Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) official had travelled to Doha for consular access in October, but there is no word on their release at present. Neither the MEA nor the Vice-President’s office commented on whether the issue will be raised by Mr. Dhankhar during the visit.
“Looking forward to the opening ceremony of the mega sporting event FIFA World Cup and interactions with the Indian community,” the Vice-President’s office said in a tweet after his arrival in Doha a few hours before the opening ceremony of the Football World Cup.
“The Vice-President’s visit would be an opportunity to join a close and friendly country Qatar as it hosts a major sporting event and also to acknowledge the role played and support extended by Indians in this World Cup,” the MEA said in a statement prior to the Vice-President’s departure, that also said he was visiting on an invitation from Qatar Amir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
The government has thus far not commented on the charges for which the eight men, including seven retired officers, were detained. The men worked for a Qatari company, ‘Dahra Global Technologies and Consultancy Services’, and were involved in training the Qatari Navy and helping in maintenance and logistics.
Dahra Global’s Managing Director Retd. Commander Purnendu Tiwari has been based in Qatar for several years and in 2019 received the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman from former President Ramnath Kovind for his work in “enhancing India’s image abroad” and “his contribution towards capacity building for the Qatar Emiri Naval Forces, thereby promoting India-Qatar bilateral cooperation”, the Indian Embassy in Qatar’s social media pages said at the time, commending him as the first Indian Armed Forces personnel to be awarded the highest honour meant for NRIs / PIOs.
Reacting on Twitter on Sunday, Dr. Meetu Bhargava, who has been identified as a relative of Commander Tiwari (Retd.) said that the “physical and mental health” of the personnel detained in “illegal solitary cell confinement” in Doha is “deteriorating fast”. “It is high time that they all are immediately repatriated to India,” Ms. Bhargava added.
According to sources, it is unclear if there would be a “structured meeting” between Mr. Dhankhar and the Qatari leadership during his two-day visit, stressing that the issue of the detained Indians was being pursued diplomatically already.
On Monday, Mr. Dhankhar is due to address the Indian community in Doha before returning to Delhi, announced the MEA, adding, “People-to-people ties form an important element of bilateral relationship with over 840,000 Indians in Qatar.”
At a press briefing on November 10, MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi had said that the government is “following this case very closely”. “Our Embassy in Doha is in regular touch with the local authorities… there was one round of consular access there and [the Embassy is] also trying to get a visit by family members of the detained Indian nationals there.” However, he declined to “speculate” on the legal issues involved, or whether the ‘”individual consular issues” would impact India and Qatar relations.
Reacting to the reports of their incarceration, former Navy Chief Admiral Arun Prakash (Retd.) had said on Twitter that the solitary confinement of the former officers by Qatar was “inappropriate” for a friendly neighbouring country, and the officers should have been repatriated if necessary. “Perhaps time to review Indian Navy-Qatari Navy relations & joint naval exercise “Zair-al-Bahr,” he added.