How an Email From BJP IT Cell Sealed Fate of 25-year-old Youth Congress Leader in Saudi Arabia
Bhopal: "For two months, when I was questioned for my ties with the political parties, American Congress, BJP IT Cell in an isolated cell at Dhabhan central prison in Saudi Arabia. I thought I would end up like Sarabjit Singh, who mistakenly crossed to Pakistan and spent the remaining life in jail over the allegation of being an Indian agent," recalled Raza Kardi, a 25-year-old Youth Congress leader from Madhya Pradesh's Niwari district.
NewsClick can not independently verify the claims made in this report.
Kardi, who travelled to Saudi Arabia for the first time in January this year to assist his 70-year-old grandmother in performing Hajj Umrah through an agent from Jhansi, [Uttar Pradesh], was allegedly detained on January 25, 2023, after his photo holding 'Bharat Jodo Yatra' placard in front of Mecca, with laudatory words, went viral back in India. His photo hogged the limelight after Congress leaders, including Madhya Pradesh Youth Congress president Vikrant Bhuria, tweeted it.
मध्य प्रदेश - निवाड़ी युवा कांग्रेस जिला उपाध्यक्ष रजा कादरी द्वारा यात्रा के दौरान हज यात्रा के दौरान मुस्लिम तीर्थ एवं धार्मिक स्थल मक्का शरीफ(सऊदी अरब ) में भारत जोड़ो यात्रा के सफल होने के लिए दुआ मांगी एवं देश के अमन-चैन के लिए दुआ मांगी!! pic.twitter.com/i7U7hBLPMz
— Dr.Vikrant Bhuria (@VikrantBhuria) January 25, 2023
Kardi explained that while in Mecca, he came across a group of Indians who had an Indian tricolour flag along with that of the Bharat Jodo Yatra placard. He clicked photos with both of them but only uploaded his photo on Facebook with the Indian national flag on the eve of January 25 to show his affection for the country on foreign soil.
Youth Congress president Vikrant Bhuriya said, "We did not share it with any political agenda in mind as Bharat Jodo Yatra was itself apolitical. The rally resonated with people across the globe, and several people showed its posters in various cricket matches as well. So when I got Kardi's photo, I tweeted it."
But, Bhuriya didn't know that his tweet would be used to placate Kardi as a 'political agent' who came to Saudi Arabia to assist his grandmother.
As his photo went viral in India, a person from the travel agency allegedly knocked on his door at 12:30 am. They urged him to come to the lawn to share his experience with the travel agency.
"I resisted his late-night request but agreed when he insisted. When I was in the lift, a herd of people held me from behind, handcuffed and covered my face with a black cloth. They took me to the local police station," Kardi recalled.
According to Kardi, at the police station, he was shown the viral photo with a Bharat Jodo Yatra placard and inquired about his political affiliations.
"It was at the police station I learnt that it is a crime to click such photos in Mecca as it was being investigated through a prism of using the holy site for political gain. Despite the language barrier, I tried to explain that I had no idea about the law of the land, and the travel agent did not brief me on this."
Kardi was allegedly asked to get a letter from the agent with the passport and visa or call a Saudi citizen for the surety. But, his agent, who had all his documents, turned back. "I had no proof to show or prove my innocence," he said. Yet, the Saudi Police were treating Raza with respect.
Things began to take an ugly turn when Kardi was allegedly taken to Dhabhan Central Prison after two days of interrogation at the police station and kept in a dark, isolated cell. He was clueless and frightened.
After four months of jail mental torture and interrogation, he learnt that a Twitter user, Hassan Khan, had allegedly flagged his photo to Saudi police officials demanding action for using the holy site for political gain. "I was detained on this complaint," he said.
During the interrogation, he also learned that two days after his detention, the Bharatiya Janata Party IT Cell allegedly shot a malicious email to Saudi officials, with an anonymous sender sharing his photos and videos with Congress leaders terming me as a 'political agent' who has connections with Saudi's enemy states and came to Saudi on a mission.
Since Kardi has failed to show his passport and visa to the Saudi police, the alleged BJP IT cell's email further fanned their [Police] speculations.
Kardi, who returned to India on October 4, 2023, after spending eight months in jail, explained, "I was questioned like an agent. They asked if I have connections with international political organisations like America. They used to ingest a liquid chemical during the interrogation, which made me dizzy and sleepy. They splash water on my face when I fall unconscious owing to it. When they inquired about the BJP IT Cell and their accusations, I learned about the malicious mail."
When contacted, Madhya Pradesh's BJP IT Cell incharge Aman Shukla said, "None from my office has written any such email to Saudi officials."
Back in India, Kardi's family was clueless about his whereabouts. Since none of the family had travelled to Saudi Arabia before, they were clueless about who to complain to and where to go.
The agent, who had his documents, was in Saudi Arabia, allegedly shutting down his shop in Jhansi. When family members got his number, he not only refused to come to India but also didn't share his documents.
"We were informed that the agent received 15000 riyal [Rs 3.32 lakh] from the Saudi government for sharing Kardi's location and documents to the Police as a bounty."
Several emails and written complaints to the Indian and Saudi Embassy in Delhi and the Indian embassy in Saudi Arabia remained unheard.
"The Indian embassy in Saudi Arabia gave the cold shoulder to all the complaints or emails we wrote regarding Kardi's whereabouts," said Shehzad Khan, his uncle.
"We went to the Saudi embassy and Indian Embassy in Delhi, but they insisted on tracking down the agent. But the agent refused to come," said his uncle Khan. Seeing no way out, Khan brought the matter to Madhya Pradesh's Congress leader Digvijay Singh, who was familiar with his viral photo. Singh not only made efforts but also wrote numerous letters to the Government of India and the Indian embassy, seeking their intervention to release Kardi.
Speaking on it, Singh said, "It's true that after several letters to the Government of India and much toil, the youth came to India."
— digvijaya singh (@digvijaya_28) October 13, 2023
His uncle also said that over half a dozen men disguised as agents duped lakhs of rupees from the family with a promise to bring Kardi back. But they ran away with the money.
Back in a Saudi prison, Kardi was allegedly kept isolated for over two months. And owing to the ongoing interrogation, his mental health began to deteriorate. He fell ill and weak as he was used to being given a piece of bread a day.
The officials were using a translator during the questioning.
After two months in jail, he somehow managed to call from the prison to his family. "I'm fine and will return soon," he told the family members in less than 30 seconds of a phone call. He was given no time to explain the matter to the family members or seek their help.
As his mental health deteriorated due to ongoing interrogation, he was referred to a psychiatrist who speaks Hindi. "After days of counselling and medicine, things became normal," said Kardi.
On the psychiatrist's advice, the Saudi police shifted Kardi to another cell with other inmates.
It was eventually five months later that the investigating officer informed Kardi that an anonymous complaint through BJP's IT cell was allegedly received that projected him as an agent who had come to Mecca to further his political agenda and had associations with the Saudi Arabian enemy state.
After six months of interrogation, he was transferred to the Al-Shumaisi detention centre, where an agent sent out by the Overseas Congress party, the foreign wing of Congress, paved the way for his return.
When the malicious accusation fell flat during the six months of investigation, and the Saudi police official established his credentials, the investigating officer assured him of the release. "You will be free soon. Get ready. Said the investigative officer," recalled Kardi.
Kardi, who projected his fate like Sarabjit Singh, couldn't believe his ears and burst into tears. "It was like a second chance," he said.
On September 4, 2023, upon his arrival to Niwari, he was given a warm welcome by his family and party leaders. "Kardi is a true Congress worker," said Ravindra Ghosh, Congress leader from Niwari.
Speaking over the call, Kardi resented, "When the right-wing groups failed to placate me on foreign land for showing a placard, they began tarnishing my image with propaganda about my arrival."
He added, "Many social media handles of the anti-Congress group, BJP IT cell and orthodox Muslims are putting up fake posts making malicious allegations that I was whipped and fined for showing the Bharat Jodo Yatra placard at the holy site. But the truth is, the Saudi Police never assaulted me. Just because I failed to show documents and email from the BJP IT cell making malicious accusations, they withheld me for interrogation."
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