Former BJP leader Yashwant Sinha, who joined the Trinamool Congress on Saturday, has issued a bizarre statement saying Mamata Banerjee wanted to offer herself as a hostage in exchange for passengers of the hijacked plane in the ‘Kandahar incident’ for the sake of the country.
After formally joining the party, Yashwant Sinha claimed that after the Indian Airlines IC 814 flight was hijacked by Harkat-ul-Mujahideen terrorists, who took the flight to Afghanistan’s Kandahar, Mamata Banerjee had offered to be a hostage to free the other civilians.
“At the time of the Kandahar plane highjack incident, Mamataji proposed to the cabinet that she was ready to be a hostage so others are freed. She was ready to give her life for the country,” Yashwant Sinha said.
#WATCH | TMC Yashwant Sinha says, Mamata Banerjee wanted to offer herself as a hostage in exchange for passengers of the hijacked plane in ‘Kandahar incident’, for the country. pic.twitter.com/Pf1CBJGLyg— ANI (@ANI) March 13, 2021
Mamata Banerjee, who was then the ally of the BJP and part of the NDA coalition, served as the Minister of Railways in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government during the incident on December 24, 1999. Yashwant Sinha was the Minister of Finance in the Vajpayee government.
On December 24, 1999, Indian Airlines IC 814, with 178 passengers and 11 crew members, left Kathmandu for Delhi. It entered Indian airspace at 5.30 pm and was hijacked shortly after. Harkat-ul-Mujahideen hijacked the airline with the support and active assistance of ISI before flying to several locations before landing in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The hostage crisis ended after seven days when India agreed to release three dreaded Islamic terrorists – Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, and Maulana Masood Azhar.
IC-814 was en route from Kathmandu to New Delhi. The hijackers directed the pilot Captain Devi Sharan to fly to Lahore initially. However, The captain flew to Amritsar citing insufficient fuel and persuaded the hijackers to allow him to land the plane at Amritsar. While the Crisis Management Group (CMG), headed by the Cabinet Secretary, was still deliberating on dealing with the situation, the IC-814 had already left Amritsar. Even though there was a 45-50 minute window to carry out an operation to end the hostage crisis, the government of the day did not prefer to take the risk, fearing the casualties. The reluctance from the government to go for an NSG operation also came from the fact that the opposition led by the Congress party, aided by its friendly media, had put severe pressure to make sure that the Vajpayee government did not consider any military operation to release the hostages.
IC 814 was eventually taken to Kandahar in Southern Afghanistan from Amritsar, after briefly touching down in Lahore and Dubai. After the IC-814 reached Kandahar, which incidentally was the base of the Taliban government, headed by Mullah Mohammed Omar. The hijackers had demanded the release of 35 terrorists from Indian prisons, including the dreaded terrorist Maulana Masood Azhar and had demanded $200mn in cash.
The Indian government sent in a team of negotiators headed by Diplomat Vivek Katju, Ajit Doval, who was a high ranking Intelligence Bureau officer then, Nehchal Sandhu, and CD Sahay, along with few other representatives of the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security. On December 31, 1999, the crisis came to an end as India agreed to release three of the top militants including Masood Azhar, the founder of the terrorist outfit, Jaish-e-Mohammad. During these negotiations, Doval was also effective in bringing down the number of terrorists to be released from 35 to just three.
Years later, many senior government officials who were involved with the negotiating team, including NSA Ajit Doval had spoken about the negative role played by the media to put pressure on the release of hostages.