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Monday, April 20, 2009

Kandahar issue angers family

ANANYA SENGUPTA

New Delhi, April 19: The Congress’s Kandahar attack on L.K. Advani has angered a young woman who was on the hijacked flight and whose uncle had stormed Jaswant Singh’s news conference in December 1999 to demand that terrorists be released in lieu of the hostages.

Kanika Naithani Mittal was 18 then and she’s “shocked” the hijack has been made an election issue by the Congress.

“In the past 10 years, I haven’t been free of Kandahar. I just want to tell these politicians to grow up… There are thousands of issues they can use to take digs at one another, why rake up this issue?” she says.

Kanika was one of a family of six on board Flight IC 814 from Kathmandu who walked free when the Vajpayee government took three terrorists to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, where the plane had been taken, and released them.

“I cannot say how relieved we were to see Jaswant Singh when he had come to escort the terrorists out…. it takes a strong person to do what he did. He put his neck on the line,” says Kanika.

Her uncle, surgeon Sanjeev Chibber, had earlier stormed into foreign minister Jaswant’s news conference and shouted that the terrorists must be freed. In the age of 24-hour television, this brought immense pressure on the government, especially as the Taliban foreign minister was publicly counting hours to the release deadline.

Chibber, who in retrospect believes terrorists should not be negotiated with, says: “It was terrible reliving the nightmare. But I believe that the Congress and BJP are the two faces of the same coin. Their ideology is based on opportunism.”

The cancer surgeon says his wife was so traumatised when news of the hijack broke that she didn’t speak a word for two days.

Kanika says: “I want to ask the Congress why they decided to take up this issue on the eve of the elections. Only for political mileage?… I’m disgusted.”

Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul have brought up the Kandahar hijack repeatedly in the election campaign to counter Advani’s claim that he will make a “strong” Prime Minister. One of the three terrorists freed, Masood Azhar, is said to have plotted the terror attack on Parliament in 2001.

Advani, who was home minister at the time of the hijack, had in his autobiography tried to distance himself from the decision to free the terrorists by claiming he was in the dark.

Arun Naithani, who lives in Dehra Dun, echoes daughter Kanika: “It’s just one-upmanship that they are involved in on election-eve. None of them knows what they are talking about. I feel that compulsions that come out of holding power as a government during a crisis like this lead to tough decisions like the one Vajpayee took.

Whether it was the Congress or the BJP, the approach would have been similar. Anyone could have ‘melted’ in that situation. I admire Jaswant Singh for his courage of acting as guarantee for us.”

The father of Rupin Katyal, the 27-year-old honeymooner who was the only passenger to be killed, is more upset than angry.

Chandar Mohan Katyal, who lives in Chandigarh, says it is terrible that political parties were trying to get mileage out of the tragedy now when 10 years ago, none of them thought of his family.

“Political leaders of this country had not even sent a word of consolation or sympathy to me over my personal tragedy at that time,” he said.

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