Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj slams African Ambassadors for ‘overreacting’ to Noida attack

India's Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj accused African Ambassadors in India of overreacting to the attacks on Nigerian citizens in Greater Noida last month and the government's subsequent response.

The African ambassadors are expected to meet this weekend to respond to the charges.

Sushma Swaraj.
Sushma Swaraj. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia

Their statement, issued by Alem Woldemariam, the ambassador of Eritrea and the dean of the African heads of mission, insisted that the attacks were a sign of racism and xenophobia, and demanded condemnation from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.

"What the dean of the African diplomats has said about the silence or inaction of our political leadership is completely contrary to facts," Swaraj said in the Lok Sabha. "And every criminal act is not racial in nature."

Swaraj's reaction is likely to stir up the controversy surrounding the attack further and spark diplomatic tensions with African nations, with sections of India's foreign policy establishment worried about the possibility of retaliatory attacks in African countries.

Swaraj spoke in Parliament after junior foreign minister VK Singh summoned Woldemariam to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to argue that the African ambassadors should have refrained from public criticism of the Indian government. Instead, Singh reportedly told Woldemariam the African envoys should have sought a meeting with Swaraj to air their grievances and protest the government's response.

The tensions stem from a set of incidents in late March after a 19-year-old local resident in Greater Noida died as a result of a drug overdose. A mob forced their way into an apartment rented by African students, accusing them of killing the boy and of selling him narcotics. The five Nigerians were detained by the police but set free as no evidence was found linking them to the death of the victim.

The next day, another mob attacked a different group of African nationals in a mall in Greater Noida, thrashing them in an assault caught on camera.

The police have since arrested six men, Swaraj said, listing a series of steps she took following the attacks – from calling up Adityanath to assuring a fair probe.

"We have only said that don't label these attacks racist before the probe is complete," she said in her statement, before playing detective seconds later. "Any race-motivated attack is pre-planned. This was not a pre-planned attack."

Sushma also questioned a threat from the African ambassadors to seek an investigation by the UN Human Rights Council into the attacks.

"We have a human rights commission in this country, active NGOs, a free press, an independent judiciary – we have all these mechanisms available in this country," she said. "And you talk of going to the Human Rights Council."