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17 January 2000 National Cover Story: Ic 814

Unholier Than Thou

Both the Congress and the BJP have had links with hijackers

Contrary to what political parties might now proclaim, their record is not blemishless when it comes to hijackings. The Congress and the BJP have been guilty in the past of providing patronage to hijackers. While the Congress rewarded two hijackers with assembly tickets in Uttar Pradesh, Atal Behari Vajpayee was sympathetic to the hijacker who demanded the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya.

On January 23, 1993, Satish Chandra Pandey, a staunch Ram bhakt and BJP supporter from Sultanpur, hijacked a Delhi-bound Indian Airlines (IA) plane from Lucknow, holding 48 passengers hostage. He was protesting against the then prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao’s assurance-soon after the demolition of the Babri Masjid-that "it will be reconstructed". "I flew into a rage," Satish said then. "I wanted to attract the attention of the government." Soon after hijacking the aircraft, Pandey got in touch with Vajpayee. He surrendered before Vajpayee.

Satish was imprisoned for four years and released on bail on the condition that he would present himself at Lucknow’s Sarojini Nagar police station each month the following year. The Lucknow police did not keep track of him after that. But Vajpayee did, according to The Sydney Morning Herald’s Christopher Kremmer. On June 27, 1996, Vajpayee wrote a letter to him on his official letterhead condoling Satish’s father’s death. "I share your grief. I pray to the Lord for your father’s soul and (to) give the family members the strengh to bear this," he wrote.

Bholanath Pandey, on his part, resents being called a hijacker. "It was purely a political protest for a great Indian leader (Indira Gandhi) who was sent to jail unfairly," he says of his December 20, 1978, adventure when he and Devendra Pandey, another diehard Indira loyalist, commandeered an IA flight as it flew over Aligarh. "We had no weapons and as we entered the cabin we announced our intention to the passengers," says Bholanath, who unsuccessfully contested the 1999 Lok Sabha elections from Salempur. The 132 passengers were held hostage for some hours before the two called it quits in the presence of the media. Soon after, both men became active Congressmen. Bholanath and Devendra were elected to the Vidhan Sabha in 1980. Bhola served as a Congress mla from 1980 to 1985 while Devendra remained a member of the house for two terms. Devendra, upcc general secretary till recently, is now nurturing Sultanpur constituency in the hope of a Congress ticket in the next elections. Even though the Congress has condemned the recent hijacking, it can’t gloss over the fact that it has been patronising hijackers.

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AUTHORS: Sutapa Mukerjee
SECTION: National
SUBSECTION: Cover Stories
OUTLOOK: 17 January, 2000
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