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Did the hijack of flight IC-814 bring India to its knees?

The flight number IC-814 of the Indian Airlines, travelling from Kathmandu to New Delhi was hijacked mid-air.

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The ill-fated flight IC-814 was destined to fly from Kathmandu to Delhi
The ill-fated flight IC-814 was destined to fly from Kathmandu to Delhi
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NEW DELHI: The Christmas Eve of 1999 doesn’t go well into the books of Indian history. The whole global community was hit with the hell of a jerk when the news of a plane hijack was set out by the Indian media channels. The flight number IC-814 of the Indian Airlines, travelling from Kathmandu to New Delhi was hijacked mid-air. At the time of the hijack, the airline was carrying 178 passengers and 11 crew members on board, after it took-off from the Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu.

This incident shattered the whole Indian Intelligence wing and questions were already raised on the credibility of R&AW agency. R&AW (Research & Analysis Wing) is the external intelligence unit of India and looks up for the foreign threat counts. But after the hijack of IC-814, every available resource was scrambled to contain the situation which was already out of hand.

Till date, there are a lot of unanswered questions as to why there was no show up of NSG commandos when the aircraft landed at Amritsar and the time was ripe enough to launch a counter-attack on the hijackers.

An article by a profound writer and columnist, Kanchan Gupta has rightly concluded in one of his articles on Kandahar hijack that India standout to be a nation of cowards. When it mattered the most, Indian people turned out in their true colours and let the nation down by surrendering in front of the hijackers.

Prime Minister Atal Beharai Vajpayee thoroughly counted every possible option at his disposal
Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee thoroughly checked all the possible options at his disposal

The initial impact

During this mishappening, NDA government was in the centre and till date is held responsible for such a huge goof-up. The then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was in mid-air at the time of the hijack and from the time of the hijack incident, he was informed almost after two hours. The lag in the communication is blamed on the lack of satellite phones at that time.

The moment Vajpayee landed at the Palam Air Base, National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra broke the news of plane hijack.

Vajpayee was taken aback by it and called for an emergency meeting with his security advisor and cabinet ministers. He also called off his birthday and Christmas celebrations, scheduled for that evening.

Later, the five hijackers were identified as Ibrahim Athar, Shahid Akhtar Sayed, Gulshan Iqbal, Sunny Ahmed Qazi, Mistri Zahoor Ibrahim, and Shakir. All of them were found to be the residents of Pakistan and belonged to a dreaded militant organization.

Hijacking ordeal

Just after few moments of the takeoff of flight IC-814, militants hijacked the plane and diverted it to Lahore airport but they were denied permission to land at the airport. Then they head towards Amritsar after realizing that the flight was running low on fuel. The Amritsar’s airport, Raja Sansi Airport was immediately alerted about the hijack and directed to prevent the plane from taking off after the planes landing.

The hijackers demanded the refueling of the plane but it was blatantly rejected by the Indian officials and the aircraft stayed there for another forty-five minutes. Soon hijackers got suspicious and expected a commando attack, so they stabbed a passenger and forced the flight to take off with an almost empty tank. Then the under pressure pilots took off from there and attempted another landing at Lahore airport, even after the denial of permission from Pakistan’s airport authority. But with sheer courage and skill, both the flight pilots of IC-814 landed the plane safely at the landing strip and parked it in the airport’s bay area.

After the refueling of the aircraft by the Pakistani authority, hijackers took off from there and flew to Dubai airport. Dubai officials permitted them to land there and in return, successfully negotiated the release of 13 women and 11 children. The next morning, the plane took off for Afghanistan and landed at Kandahar Airport, at that time which was under the direct control of the terrorist organization.

Demand for ransom

On holding their fort at Kandahar airport, the hijackers demanded the release of 36 terrorists held in Indian prisons in return for safe passage for the people onboard. After hours of herculean negotiations by the security officials, Indian government stumbled upon a deal with them and finally agreed to release three terrorists in exchange for all the hostages. The name of terrorist to be freed included Maulana Masood Azhar, Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, and Ahmed Omar Sheikh.

Within no time, the paperwork was done in order to release the terrorists and they were flown to Kandahar airport.

Finally, after suffering of five stressful day, people were relieved from the captivity of the hijackers
Finally, after suffering for five stressful days, people were relieved from the captivity of the hijackers

Moment of sigh

After that, two aircrafts left for Kandahar airport and Indian officials made the exchange. On the evening of 31st December, hostages of flight IC-814 were flown back to Delhi and a sense of relief prevailed in the Indian government and its people. But, soon the NDA government came under intense fire from various political parties.

Following this incident, India didn’t take much time to learn from this blunder and till date, it is made sure that nothing sort of that magnitude occurs ever. Although, there are still many unresolved mysteries going around in the minds of the people, but no one is up to take the responsibility for such a gaffe. Even the presence of an R&AW agent in the hijacked plane is a matter of contention. Reports suggest that R&AW officials were tipped prior to the hijack but were rashly rebuffed.

Irrespective of all the fuss, the unchallenged credit goes to the people involved in this whole incident and we salute to the bravery and courage put up by the flight pilots and the people on board.

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Atal Bihari Vajpayee: A Peace Visionary and a Man Who Believed in India’s Destiny and was Ready To Fight For It

It was precisely this persona of Vajpayee -- one merged in Hindutva ideology yet seemingly not wholly willing to bow to it -- that won him admirers cutting across the political spectrum.

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Atal Bihari Vajpayee,
Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India's peace visionary. Image: Flickr

Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a man of moderation in a fraternity of jingoistic nationalists; a peace visionary in a region riven by religious animosity; and a man who believed in India’s destiny and was ready to fight for it.

Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee (93), who died on Thursday, will go down in history as a person who tried to end years of hostility with Pakistan and put development on the front burner of the country’s political agenda. He was also the first non-Congress Prime Minister to complete a full five-year term.

Even though he lived the last 13 years of his life in virtual isolation, dogged by debilitating illnesses and bedridden, he has left an enduring legacy for the nation and the region where he was much loved and respected across the political spectrum and national boundaries, including in Pakistan.

Vajpayee, former Indian Prime Minister
Vajpayee stunned the world by making India a declared nuclear state. Image: Wikimedia Commons

In the tumultuous period he presided over the destiny of the world’s largest democracy, Vajpayee stunned the world by making India a declared nuclear state and then almost went to war with Pakistan before making peace with it in the most dramatic fashion.
In the process, his popularity came to match that of Indira Gandhi, a woman he admired for her guts even as he hated her politics.

He also became the best-known national leader after Indira Gandhi and her father Jawaharlal Nehru.

After despairing for years that he would never become Prime Minister and was destined to remain an opposition leader all his life, he achieved his goal, but only for 13 days, from May 16-28, 1996, after his deputy, L.K. Advani, chose not to contest elections that year.
His second term came on March 19, 1998, and lasted 13 months, a period during which India stunned the world by undertaking a series of nuclear tests that invited global reproach.

Although his tenure again proved short-lived, his and his government’s enhanced stature following the world-defying blasts enabled him to return as Prime Minister for the third time on October 13, 1999, a tenure that lasted a full five-year term.

When finally he stepped down in May 2004, after an election that he was given to believe he would win, it marked the end of a long and eventful political career spanning six decades.

Vajpayee had gone into these elections riding a personality cult that projected him as a man who had brought glory to the nation in unprecedented ways. The BJP’s election strategy rested on seeking a renewed mandate over three broad pillars of achievement that the government claimed — political stability in spite of the pulls and pressures of running a multi-party coalition; a “shining” economy that saw a dizzying 10.4 percent growth in the last quarter of the previous year; and peace with Pakistan that changed the way the two countries looked at each other for over 50 years.

The results of the elections could not have come as a greater shock to a man who was hailed for his achievements and who was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 influential men of the decade.

Success didn’t come easily to the charismatic politician, who was born on Christmas Day in 1924 in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, into a family of moderate means. His father was a school teacher and Vajpayee would later recall his early brush with poverty.

He did his Masters in Political Science, studying at the Victoria College in Gwalior and at the DAV College in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, where he first contested, and lost, elections. He began his professional career as a journalist, working with Rashtradharma, a Hindi monthly, Panchjanya, a Hindi weekly, and two Hindi dailies, Swadesh and Veer Arjun. By then he had firmly embraced the ideals of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).
But even as he struggled to win electoral battles, his command over Hindi, the lingua franca of the North Indian masses, his conciliatory politics and his riveting oratory brought him into public limelight.

Also read: For Modi, Road To 2019 Will Be Steeper

His first entry into Parliament was in 1962 through the Rajya Sabha, the upper house. It was only in 1971 that he won a Lok Sabha election. He was elected to the lower house seven times and to the Rajya Sabha twice.

Vajpayee
Vajpayee spent months in prison when Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency rule in June 1975. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Vajpayee spent months in prison when Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency rule in June 1975 and put her political opponents in jail. When the Janata Party took office in 1977, dethroning the Congress for the first time, he became the foreign minister.

The lowest point in his career came when he lost the 1984 Lok Sabha polls, that too from his birthplace Gwalior, after Rajiv Gandhi won an overwhelming majority following his mother Indira Gandhi’s assassination. And the BJP he led ended up with just two seats in
the 545-member Lok Sabha, in what looked like the end of the road for the right-wing party.

In no time, Vajpayee was replaced and “eclipsed” by his long-time friend L.K. Advani.
Although they were the best of friends publicly, Vajpayee never fully agreed with Advani’s and the assorted Hindu nationalist groups’ strident advocacy of Hindutva, an ideology ranged against the idea of secular India.

Often described as the right man in the wrong party, there were also those who belittled him as a moderate “mask” to a hardline Hindu nationalist ideology. Often he found his convictions and value systems at odds with the party, but the bachelor-politician never went against it.

It was precisely this persona of Vajpayee — one merged in Hindutva ideology yet seemingly not wholly willing to bow to it — that won him admirers cutting across the political spectrum. It was this trait that made him the Prime Minister when the BJP’s allies concluded they needed a moderate to steer a hardliner, pro-Hindu party.

He brought into governance measures that created for India a distinct international status on the diplomatic and economic fronts. In his third prime ministerial stint, Vajpayee launched a widely acclaimed diplomatic initiative by starting a bus service between New Delhi and Pakistan’s Lahore city.

Its inaugural run in February 1999 carried Vajpayee and was welcomed on the border by his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif. It was suspended only after the 2001 terror attack on the Indian Parliament that nearly led to a war between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

The freeze between the two countries, including an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation on the border for nearly a year, was finally cracked in the spring of 2003 when Vajpayee, while in Kashmir, extended a “hand of friendship” to Pakistan. That led to the historic summit in January 2004 with then President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad — a remarkable U-turn after the failed summit in Agra of 2001. Despite the two men being so far apart in every way, Musharraf developed a strong liking for the Indian leader.

His unfinished task, one that he would probably rue, would be the peace process with Pakistan that he had vowed to pursue to its logical conclusion and a resolution of the Kashmir dispute.

He was not known as “Atal-Ji”, a name that translates into firmness, for nothing. He could go against the grain of his party if he saw it deviate from its path. When Hindu hardliners celebrated the destruction of the 16th century Babri Mosque at Ayodhya, he was full of personal remorse for the apocalyptic action and called it — in a landmark interview to IANS — the “worst miscalculation” and a “misadventure”. He even despaired that “moderates have no place — who is going to listen to the voice of sanity?”

In his full five-year term, he successively carried forward India’s economic reforms programme with initiatives to improve infrastructure, including flagging off a massive national highway project that has become associated with his vision, went for massive privatisation of unviable state undertakings despite opposition from even within his own party.

While his personal image remained unsullied despite his long innings in the murky politics of this country, his judgment was found wanting when his government was rocked by an arms bribery scandal that sought to expose alleged payoffs to some senior members of his cabinet. His failure to speak up when members of his party and its sister organisations, who are accused of killing more than 1,000 Muslims in Gujarat, was questioned by the liberal fraternity who wondered aloud about his secular proclamations. He wanted then Chief Minister — now Prime Minister, Narendra Modi — to take responsibility for the riots and quit but was prevailed upon by others not to press his decision.

A day before his party lost power, Vajpayee was quoted as saying in a television interview that if and when he stepped down he would like to devote his time to writing and poetry. But fate ruled otherwise. The man who once rued that “I have waited too long to be Prime Minister” found his last days in a world far removed from the adulation and attention — though across the nation people prayed for his well-being — surrounded only by care-givers and close family whom he even failed to recognize. (IANS)