NEW DELHI: Former RAW chief A S Dulat's claim of a "goof up" in Kandahar hijack response by the Vajpayee government in 1999 triggered a controversy today with BJP outrightly rejecting it while Congress alleged that its "soft" approach laid the "foundation of terrorism".
In forceful assertions by its leaders, BJP said there was no other option left then but to release the three dreaded terrorists to save the lives of people on board the Indian Airlines plane that was hijacked and taken to Kandahar.
In 1999, IC-814, which was on route from Kathmandu to New Delhi, was hijacked by terrorist group Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and taken to Kandahar in Afghanistan.
The crisis lasted for seven days and ended after India agreed to release three militants - Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and Maulana Masood Azhar.
Dulat, the former head of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), had said that the Crisis Management Group (CMG) "goofed up" the entire case by not immobilising the plane when it had landed in Amritsar and that the then Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah felt the decision by Union Government to release terrorists was a "mistake".
The BJP outrightly rejected Dulat's claims about the alleged "goof up" of the IC-814 hijacking incident. It also rebutted claims of the ruling party compromising with terrorists and terrorism and accused Congress of allowing people like Warren Anderson, responsible for the death of thousands in Bhopal gas tragedy, escape scotfree.
"Foundation of terrorism not only in India but the entire world (was laid) when three terrorists were let loose by a soft government led by the BJP", Congress spokesman Tom Vadakkan said, latching on to Dulat's claims.
Accusing the BJP of practising "false nationalism" and "fake patriotism", he said it was a fact that the "base" of terrorism not only in India but the world was laid with the release of the three ultras.
"Congress demands that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP apologise unconditionally to the nation for having aided, abetted and facoured anti-India elements, terrorists and criminals," he said.
Rejecting Congress claims, BJP Spokesperson M J Akbar said Congress has a "very convenient memory" on Kandahar while noting that the decision to save hijacked Indians was taken after consultations with everyone.
"I challenge it to answer one question: Should those around 200 Indians have been allowed to die? Please ask them this question and please ask them to respond," Akbar said.
"It is regrettable, but perhaps their (Congress's) occasional amnesia, where it suits them. On Kandahar, consultations were held at the highest level by senior leaders of NDA. It was a national crisis. In the spirit of the Vajpayee government, consultations were held with all the parties," he said.
Yashwant Sinha, a senior BJP leader and a Union Minister in the Vajpayee Cabinet during the Kandahar incident, claimed that there was no other option before the government but save the lives of passengers.
"Anyone who is criticising that decision should come out openly and say we should have sacrificed the lives of passengers held and not released the terrorists. There was absolutely no other option, except to brittle down their demand as much as we could through negotiations and then the very minimum had to be accepted," he said.
Three hardcore terrorists were released by the government in exchange for the lives of the 155 passengers and the crew members members to end the 8-day-old hijack crisis.