kuchh bhi de do, hamare logon ko ghar wapas lao”…..Jaswant Singh made bold to suggest ….nation’s interest….we could not
be seen to be giving in to the hijackers…..That fetched him abuse and rebuke…“Bhaand me jaaye desh aur bhaand me jaaye desh ka hit. (To hell with the country and national interest)”……
For people who believe in true equality for women, it must be accepted that the laws will also equally apply. There is no reason why women will be any less intelligent or resourceful than men, it follows that they may be just as ruthless and cruel. And yes, women can be serial killers, nothing surprising about that. While we do not believe in the death penalty, the Indian people AND the leadership both believe in this form of retributive justice (and path for closure for the victims).
Once if it is proven beyond reasonable doubt that you have harmed children, we have no sympathy to spare. Put these people behind bars and throw away the keys….for life. We oppose death penalty since there is a chance that the convicted person has been falsely implicated.
One exception that troubles our conscience is how we should deal with terrorists. If we jail them, there may be attempts to free them by taking innocent people hostages (see below). In a democracy you really do not have a choice…as the Head of the Nation, you cannot look scores of families in the eye and tell them that their loved sons, daughters, brothers, sisters will not be coming home in order to preserve some abstract national interest.
That memorable slogan from 1999…..to hell with the country and the national interest…there is no arguing with that sentiment in good faith…what if it was YOUR daughter who was kidnapped by the terrorists? By the same token, who cares if a terrorist is killed…to hell with your principles...or would YOU rather be the one talking to the widow of Squadron Leader Ahuja?
Kolhapur women, who were sentenced to death in 2001 for kidnapping 13
children and killing nine of them, may become the first women ever to be
hanged in India.
President Pranab Mukherjee late last month
rejected Renuka Kiran Shinde and her sister Seema Mohan Gavit’s mercy
petitions. The buffer period before their hanging – time taken by the
state home department to inform all concerned after receiving the note
from Rashtrapati Bhavan – ends on Saturday.
The number of
people executed in India since Independence is a matter of dispute.
Government statistics claim that only 52 people have been executed since
independence. However, research by the People’s Union for Civil
Liberties indicates that the actual number of executions is in fact much
higher, as they have located records of 1,422 executions in the decade
from 1953 to 1963 alone. However, there is no record of any woman’s
Renuka and Seema, who partnered their mother
Anjanabai Gavit to kidnap the kids and push them into begging and killed
some of them after they stopped being productive, are currently lodged
at the Yerwada jail in Pune. Anjanabai passed away during the trial, and
the sisters’ father Kiran Shinde turned approver and was acquitted.
Desk officer Deepak Jadiye of the home department
said no objections have been received yet on the Kolapur sisters’
hanging. “We have informed the two convicts, their relatives, the legal
remedial cells of the Supreme Court and also the district court about
the rejection (of their mercy plea),” he said.
the death sentence to the sisters in 2001, Judge G L Yedke in Kolhapur
had described the nine kids’ murders as ‘the most heinous’, and observed
that the two sisters seemed to have enjoyed killing the children.
The Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu to New Delhi, designated IC
814, with 178 passengers and 11 crew members on board, was hijacked on
Christmas eve, 1999, a short while after it took-off from Tribhuvan
International Airport; by then, the aircraft had entered Indian
airspace. Nine years later to the day, with an entire generation coming
of age, it would be in order to recall some facts and place others on
In 1999 I was serving as an aide to Prime Minister Atal Bihari
Vajpayee in the PMO, and I still have vivid memories of the tumultuous
week between Christmas eve and New Year’s eve. Mr Vajpayee had gone out
of Delhi on an official tour; I had accompanied him along with other
officials of the PMO. …
The hijacking of IC 814 occurred while we were
returning to Delhi in one of the two Indian Air Force Boeings which, in
those days, were used by the Prime Minister for travel within the
Curiously, the initial information about IC 814 being hijacked, of
which the IAF was believed to have been aware, was not communicated to
the pilot of the Prime Minister’s aircraft. As a result, Mr Vajpayee and
his aides remained unaware of the hijacking till reaching Delhi. This
caused some amount of controversy later.
It was not possible for anybody else to have contacted us while we
were in midair. It’s strange but true that the Prime Minister of India
would be incommunicado while on a flight because neither the ageing IAF
Boeings nor the Air India Jumbos, used for official travel abroad, had
satellite phone facilities.
By the time our aircraft landed in Delhi, it was around 7:00 pm, a
full hour and 40 minutes since the hijacking of IC 814. After
disembarking from the aircraft in the VIP bay of Palam Technical Area,
we were surprised to find National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra
waiting at the foot of the ladder. He led Mr Vajpayee aside and gave him
the news. They got into the Prime Minister’s car and it sped out of the
Technical Area. Some of us followed Mr. Vajpayee to Race Course Road,
as was the normal routine.
On our way to the Prime Minister’s residence, colleagues in the PMO
provided us with the basic details. The Kathmandu-Delhi flight had been
commandeered by five hijackers (later identified as Ibrahim Athar,
resident of Bahawalpur, Shahid Akhtar Sayed, Gulshan Iqbal, resident of
Karachi, Sunny Ahmed Qazi, resident of Defence Area, Karachi, Mistri
Zahoor Ibrahim, resident of Akhtar Colony, Karachi, and Shakir, resident
of Sukkur City) at 5:20 pm; there were 189 passengers and crew members
on board; and that the aircraft was heading towards Lahore.
At the Prime Minister’s residence, senior Ministers and Secretaries
had already been summoned for an emergency meeting. Mr Mishra left for
the crisis control room that had been set up at Rajiv Bhavan. In between
meetings, Mr Vajpayee instructed his personal staff to cancel all
celebrations planned for December 25, his birthday. The Cabinet
Committee on Security met late into the night as our long vigil began.
Meanwhile, we were informed that the pilot of IC 814 had been denied
permission to land at Lahore airport. With fuel running low, he was
heading for Amritsar. Officials at Raja Sansi Airport were immediately
alerted and told to prevent the plane from taking off after it had
The hijacked plane landed at Amritsar and remained parked on the
tarmac for nearly 45 minutes. The hijackers demanded that the aircraft
be refuelled. The airport officials ran around like so many headless
chickens, totally clueless about what was to be done in a crisis
Desperate calls were made to the officials at Raja Sansi Airport to
somehow stall the refueling and prevent the plane from taking off. The
officials just failed to respond with alacrity. At one point, an
exasperated Jaswant Singh, if memory serves me right, grabbed the phone
and pleaded with an official, “Just drive a heavy vehicle, a fuel truck
or a road roller or whatever you have, onto the runway and park it
there.” But all this was to no avail.
The National Security Guards, whose job it is to deal with hostage
situations, were alerted immediately after news first came in of IC 814
being hijacked; they were reportedly asked to stand by for any
emergency. The Home Ministry was again alerted when it became obvious
that after being denied permission to land at Lahore, the pilot was
heading towards Amritsar.
Yet, despite IC 814 remaining parked at Amritsar for three-quarters
of an hour, the NSG commandos failed to reach the aircraft. There are
two versions as to why the NSG didn’t show up: First, they were waiting
for an aircraft to ferry them from Delhi to Amritsar; second, they were
caught in a traffic jam between Manesar and Delhi airport. The real
story was never known!
The hijackers, anticipating commando action, first stabbed a
passenger, Rupin Katyal (he had gone to Kathmandu with his newly wedded
wife for their honeymoon; had they not extended their stay by a couple
of days, they wouldn’t have been on the ill-fated flight) to show that
they meant business, and then forced the pilot to take off from
Amritsar. With almost empty fuel tanks, the pilot had no other option
but to make another attempt to land at Lahore airport. Once again he was
denied permission and all the lights, including those on the runway,
were switched off. He nonetheless went ahead and landed at Lahore
airport, showing remarkable skill and courage.
Mr Jaswant Singh spoke to the Pakistani Foreign Minister and pleaded
with him to prevent the aircraft from taking off again. But the
Pakistanis would have nothing of it (they wanted to distance themselves
from the hijacking so that they could claim later that there was no
Pakistan connection) and wanted IC 814 off their soil and out of their
airspace as soon as possible. So, they refuelled the aircraft after
which the hijackers forced the pilot to head for Dubai.
At Dubai, too, officials were reluctant to allow the aircraft to
land. It required all the persuasive skills of Mr Jaswant Singh and our
then Ambassador to UAE, Mr KC Singh, to secure landing permission. There
was some negotiation with the hijackers through UAE officials and they
allowed 13 women and 11 children to disembark. Rupin Katyal had by then
bled to death. His body was offloaded. His widow remained a hostage till
On the morning of December 25, the aircraft left Dubai and headed
towards Afghanistan. It landed at Kandahar Airport, which had one
serviceable runway, a sort of ATC and a couple of shanties. The rest of
the airport was in a shambles, without power and water supply, a trophy
commemorating the Taliban’s rule.
On Christmas eve, after news of the hijacking broke, there was
stunned all-round silence. But by noon on December 25, orchestrated
protests outside the Prime Minister’s residence began, with women
beating their chests and tearing their clothes. The crowd swelled by the
hour as the day progressed.
Ms Brinda Karat came to
commiserate with the relatives of the hostages who were camping outside
the main gate of 7, Race Course Road. In fact, she became a regular
visitor over the next few days. There was a steady
clamour that the Government should pay any price to bring the hostages
back home, safe and sound. This continued till December 30.
One evening, the Prime Minister asked his staff to let the families
come in so that they could be told about the Government’s efforts to
secure the hostages’ release. By then negotiations had begun and Mullah
Omar had got into the act through his ‘Foreign Minister’, Muttavakil.
The hijackers wanted 36 terrorists, held in various Indian jails, to be
freed or else they would blow up the aircraft with the hostages.
No senior Minister in the CCS was willing to meet the families. Mr
Jaswant Singh volunteered to do so. He asked me to accompany him to the
canopy under which the families had gathered. Once there, we were
literally mobbed. He tried to explain the situation but was shouted
“We want our relatives back. What
difference does it make to us what you have to give the hijackers?” a
man shouted. “We don’t care if you have to give away Kashmir,” a
woman screamed and others took up the refrain, chanting: “Kashmir de do,
kuchh bhi de do, hamare logon ko ghar wapas lao.” Another woman sobbed,
“Mera beta… hai mera beta…” and made a great show of fainting of grief.
To his credit, Mr Jaswant Singh made bold to suggest that the
Government had to keep the nation’s interest in mind, that we could not
be seen to be giving in to the hijackers, or words to that effect, in
chaste Hindi. That fetched him abuse and rebuke. “Bhaand me jaaye desh aur bhaand me jaaye desh ka hit. (To hell with the country and national interest),” many
in the crowd shouted back. Stumped by the response, Mr Jaswant Singh
could merely promise that the Government would do everything possible.
I do not remember the exact date, but sometime during the crisis, Mr
Jaswant Singh was asked to hold a Press conference to brief the media.
While the briefing was on at the Press Information Bureau hall in
Shastri Bhavan, some families of the hostages barged in and started
shouting slogans. They were led by one Sanjiv Chibber, who, I was later
told, was a ‘noted surgeon’: He claimed six of his relatives were among
Dr Chibber wanted all 36 terrorists named by the hijackers to be
released immediately. He reminded everybody in the hall that in the past
terrorists had been released from prison to secure the freedom of Ms
Rubayya Sayeed, daughter of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, while he was Home
Minister in VP Singh’s Government. “Why
can’t you release the terrorists now when our relatives are being held
hostage?” he demanded. And then we heard the familiar refrain: “Give
away Kashmir, give them anything they want, we don’t give a damn.”
On another evening, there was a surprise visitor at the PMO: The
widow of Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja, whose plane was shot down during
the Kargil war. She insisted that she should be taken to meet the
relatives of the hostages. At Race Course Road, she spoke to
mediapersons and the hostages’ relatives, explaining why India must not
be seen giving in to the hijackers, that it was a question of national
honour, and gave her own example of fortitude in the face of adversity.
“She has become a widow, now she wants others to become widows. Who
is she to lecture us? Yeh kahan se aayi?” someone shouted from the
crowd. Others heckled her. The young widow stood her ground, displaying
great dignity and courage. As the mood turned increasingly ugly, she had
to be led away. Similar appeals were made by others who had lost their
sons, husbands and fathers in the Kargil war that summer. Col Virendra
Thapar, whose son Lt Vijayant Thapar was martyred in the war, made a
fervent appeal for people to stand united against the hijackers. It fell
on deaf ears.
The media made out that the overwhelming majority of Indians were
with the relatives of the hostages and shared their view that no price
was too big to secure the hostages’ freedom. The Congress kept on slyly
insisting, “We are with the Government and will support whatever it does
for a resolution of the crisis and to ensure the safety of the
hostages. But the Government must explain its failure.” Harkishen Singh
Surjeet and other Opposition politicians issued similar ambiguous
By December 28, the Government’s negotiators had struck a deal with
the hijackers: They would free the hostages in exchange of three dreaded
terrorists — Maulana Masood Azhar, Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar and Ahmed Omar
Sheikh — facing various charges of terrorism.
The CCS met frequently, several times a day, and discussed the entire
process threadbare. The Home Minister, the Defence Minister and the
Foreign Minister, apart from the National Security Adviser and the Prime
Minister, were present at every meeting. The deal was further
fine-tuned, the Home Ministry completed the necessary paper work, and
two Indian Airlines aircraft were placed on standby to ferry the
terrorists to Kandahar and fetch the hostages.
On December 31, the two aircraft left Delhi airport early in the
morning. Mr Jaswant Singh was on board one of them. Did his ministerial
colleagues know that he would travel to Kandahar? More important, was
the Prime Minister aware of it? The answer is both yes and no.
Mr Jaswant Singh had mentioned his decision to go to Kandahar to
personally oversee the release of hostages and to ensure there was no
last-minute problem. He was honour-bound to do so, he is believed to
have said, since he had promised the relatives of the hostages that no
harm would come their way. It is possible that nobody thought he was
serious about his plan. It is equally possible that others turned on him
when the ‘popular mood’ and the Congress turned against the Government
for its ‘abject surrender’.
On New Year’s eve, the hostages were flown back to Delhi. By New
Year’s day, the Government was under attack for giving in to the
hijackers’ demand! Since then, this ‘shameful surrender’ is held against
the NDA and Mr Jaswant Singh is painted as the villain of the piece.
Could the Kandahar episode have ended any other way? Were an Indian
aircraft to be hijacked again, would we respond any differently? Not
really. As a nation we do not have the guts to stand up to terrorism. We
cannot take hits and suffer casualties. We start counting our dead even
before a battle has been won or lost. We make a great show of honouring
those who die on the battlefield and lionise brave hearts of history,
but we do not want our children to follow in their footsteps.
We are, if truth be told, a nation of cowards who don’t have the
courage to admit their weakness but are happy to blame a well-meaning
politician who, perhaps, takes his regimental motto of ‘Izzat aur Iqbal’
rather too seriously.
Home Minister P Chidambaram said on Thursday that there is no set formula for dealing with terrorists.
When asked if India should have a policy not to negotiate with
terrorists, he said that while this worked in principle, in reality,
when the human element came into play, he was unsure of how he would
deal with the crisis.
“I do not know how I would have reacted if 150 families came to my
door and pleaded that their loved ones in that aircraft must be saved.
It is easy to criticise but if one is in that position, it is a very
difficult decision,” he said at the NDTV’s Indian of the Year Awards
function in New Delhi on Wednesday night.
The NDA government’s decision to release dreaded terrorists in
exchange for hostages in the Kandahar hijack 10 years ago had come under
attack from several quarters but Home Minister P Chidambaram is “not
sure” saying it is a “very difficult” decision.
The decision of the Vajpayee government to release three dreaded
terrorists including Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief Masood Azhar in
December, 1999 received a lot of flak from various political parties
including the Congress, more so because the then external affairs
minister Jaswant Singh accompanied them (terrorists) to Kandahar.
Azhar’s name has subsequently figured in the December 2001 terror
attack on Parliament and the attack outside Jammu and Kashmir Assembly
in Srinagar in the same month.