Reviving old wounds
It is sixteen long years since India went through the trauma of the hijacking of IC-814.Many of us probably no longer remember the harrowing experience except perhaps Rachna Katyal whose young husband <g data-gr-id="52">Ripan</g> had been killed by the hijackers.For the rest, the week was a nightmare best forgotten. Other traumatic terrorist events in the world that followed pushed this one into the background.The world moved on, but some images still endure.Former Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) chief AS Dulat’s recent interview has stirred up a hornet’s nest and brought back bitter memories.With the Opposition confronting the ruling dispensation about its seedy past, the present BJP government has a lot of introspection to do. The opposition Congress has said that the interview revealed “disturbing facts” about the hijacking of Indian Airlines flight IC-814 in 1999 and the subsequent 2002 Gujarat riots.
<g data-gr-id="53">Dulat</g>, whose book ‘Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years’ is slated to be released soon, claimed that the then NDA government “goofed up” during the 1999 Air India IC-814 Kandahar hijack case as no one wanted to take a decision fearing the imminent loss of lives.India had to release three hardcore ISI terrorists for the safety of 156 passengers and 11 crew who were held captive at Kandahar in Afghanistan for eight days between December 24 and December 31. The hijackers had released 26 women and children during the ordeal and killed <g data-gr-id="54">Ripan</g> Katyal, a Delhi-resident, who was returning after his honeymoon in the Nepalese capital.According to the former intelligence <g data-gr-id="48">official</g> it was the Vajpayee Government’s indecisiveness which led to the calamitous turn of events later on.Dulat, who headed RAW till 2000 before he was appointed as the Special Advisor on Kashmir in the then Prime Ministers Office during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government was clear in asserting that the Vajpayee government should have been in firm in issuing instructions to the Punjab police to not let the plane leave the ground. During his interview <g data-gr-id="55">Dulta</g> also alleged that initially the terrorists wanted a whopping 105 terrorists to be freed, such was the extreme pressure that the terrorists exerted on the Farooque Abdullah government.
The more pertinent revelations in this startling interview was the revelation that former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, following the loss in 2004 general elections, had expressed his discontent over the handling of situation during 2002 Gujarat riots. <g data-gr-id="56">Dulat</g> also claimed that while former Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani shared a close relationship with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the former was not happy over the way the then principal secretary <g data-gr-id="57">Brijesh</g> Mishra was given importance by Vajpayee. The insinuation that Brijesh Mishra virtually ran the government is a serious one and casts dark shadows on how the PMO was run during Vajpayee’s tenure.
The allegation that Vajpayee in 2002 promised to make National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah the Vice President, but later reneged on his promise, is a fairly mundane one since such wheeling dealing is part and parcel of Indian politics. Unearthing the embarrassing secrets of those dark days the intelligence chief revealed that during a public meeting in Srinagar in 2003, Vajpayee was apprehensive about PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti joining him and her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed on the stage.
Talking about the famous India-Pakistan Agra Summit, 2001, <g data-gr-id="58">Dulat</g> revealed that Vajpayee was tantalisingly close to sealing a deal with the then Pakistan President General Pervez <g data-gr-id="49">Musharraf</g> but the talks failed at the very last moment. Allegedly the summit started on a sour note.The former RAW chief also revealed that former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah allegedly had once facilitated the admission of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin son’s admission in a college. <g data-gr-id="59">Dulat</g> may be dismissed as a senile old man by some, but he has spoken some plain truths.
Any country other than India with effective and agile security responses would have stopped the hijacked plane which landed at an airport within its own boundaries. This is the plain brutal truth, and to accept it with honesty should be seen not as a game of political one-upmanship, but to encourage an objective appraisal of what transpired so that the right lessons can be drawn for the future by India’ security apparatus.