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Double Standards
Subir Bhaumik former BBC correspondant
Double Standards
PHOTO : Hijacked Indian Airlines flight at Kandhahar. TIWN / IANS

Former RAW chief Amarjit Singh Dulat has spilled the beans on a huge ‘goof-up” over the December 1999 Kandahar hijack. Much of what he has said was known already but what he did not talk about was whether India paid a ransom in addition to releasing the three extremist leaders. Reacting to the Dulat revelations that shows up a administrative paralysis and ‘passing the buck’ syndrome, the BJP spokesperson M J Akbar has said all this was done to protect the lives of the passengers on Ic-814. “ Ask them ( Congress) if it was a mistake to save the nearly 200 passengers,” Akbar thundered at a press conference.

Akbar’s fusillade made me recollect the events of 1999, which was an eventful year in many ways. In February that year, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee made his famous ‘ Lahore Yatra” with 22 eminent Indians, among them “Lahore de Puttar” Dev Anand.  But the Lahore Declaration led to war rather than peace. From May 1999, the Indian army was battling intruders in Kargil . The war stretched into August , hundreds of lives were lost.  Then came the Dec 24 1999 hijack of IC 814.

But in between there was a major incident in Tripura. In August 1999, four senior RSS pracharaks were kidnapped by the NLFT and dragged into their bases in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts. They were  kshetra karyavah (zonal general secretary) of west bengal, assam and the north-east shyamal kanti sengupta, pracharak working in southern assam dinendranath dey, agartala vibhag pracharak (area-in-charge) sudhamay dutta, and districtpracharak subhankar chakravarty. 70-year old Sengupta was indeed a national-level leader of the RSS 

Now was the BJP’s concern for protecting the lives of passengers of IC-814 reflected in the way they dealt with the Tripura abductions of senior leaders of their own hue !  Having played a key role in several hostage situations, my advice was sought by some senior BJP leaders.  Having successfully handled the year before my own brother-in-law’s release from the ATTF clutches without paying a penny ( perhaps the first one in Tripura to do so) , I adviced the saffron leaders not to pay up or even discuss money.  In my brother-inlaw Dr P P Majumder’s case, I had done the same --- refused to talk money and buying time by asking for proof that he was safe and sound. 

I offered to get in touch with the Shanti Bahini –PCJSS who had fought a 20 year bushwar in Chittagong Hill Tracts ( where the NLFT was based) with Indian assistance until they signed a peace deal with Sheikh Hasina’s government in 1997 .  I reckoned that the NLFT wont be able to withstand PCJSS-SB pressure and the former rebels would not refuse to do this favour to India’s ruling party.

But I found the BJP leaders were keen to resolve the hostage situation by paying ransom . Disgusted with the weak-kneed approach of chest-thumping patriots , I backed off . I later learnt that the NLFT was not satisfied with the payments they received ( some of the money may have been eaten up by negotiators) and a year later current RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat announced that the four leaders were killed by NLFT. He blamed the Baptist church for the abductions and murders.

These four leaders belonged to saffron stable, but the waywardness displayed by the party in power cannot be explained . Specially the urgency they displayed at Kandahar is releasing the militant leaders to secure the hostages stands out in stark contrast to the way the Tripura abductions were handled . These four leaders sincere RSS pracharaks who worked silently in a far off frontier region . They deserved a better deal from their colleagues and leaders.  Obviously they were not from influential families in Delhi who would barrack the Prime Minister’s house day after day , led by the likes of Brinda Karat.  I have heard some of these families even raising slogans like  “ Kashmir de deo, hamare logon ko wapas lao”.  Even at the height of the crisis in my family with my brother-in-law in ATTF clutches, I just cannot imagine going to the Chief Minister's house and shout a slogan like that .

So much for the big talk of patriotism by these abominable third-rate Delhiwallahs !  If these people are prepared to give away Kashmir to get back their loved ones, Vajpayee should have taken the hard line to drive a tough bargain and not succumbed to terrorist demands – these well off honeymoon seekers from Delhi did not deserve the concern . But at that time, the pressure of TV playing up these protests ( Swapan Dasgupta rightly snubbed NDTV’s Barkha Dutt on this in a panel discussion) played on Vajpayee and his cabinet colleagues. 

 Akbar was perhaps in Congress at that time, not in the BJP and as a ‘national editor, would not have been bothered with the abduction of four pracharaks in some far frontier place like Tripura. But he needs to know that it is in this state and not in Lutyens Delhi that we fought back terror with determination, without any chest thumping – and that BJP did not exactly set a great example by the way it handled both the abduction of the four pracharaks and the hijack of !C-814.  History is made not by those who love TV cameras and their own faces on it – it is made by people who abhor TV cameras and take the tough decisions silently.  It is important to be patriotic without wearing it on your sleeves.

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