The service chiefs — General V.P. Malik, Air Chief Marshal Y.A. Tipnis and Admiral Sushil Kumar — were also reportedly sore at being excluded from the Crisis Management Group dominated by bureaucrats.
About a month after the crisis, highly-placed defence sources say that the three chiefs had reason to oppose a compromise.
Since the end of the Kargil war, Pakistan-backed infiltrators had been steadily sneaking into India and carrying out suicide attacks on security camps, sources said.
The defence chiefs felt that releasing the terrorists would give a fillip to the terrorist brigades in Kashmir, making things more difficult for the jawans who were already having to contend with surprise guerrilla strikes.
Not only would a compromise demoralise the army, it would also affect the morale of the paramilitary forces fighting in the hostile terrain, sources said.
It was also felt that Masood Azhar, being a preacher, would be able to motivate even more militants when he returned to Pakistan. Masood was one of the three militants who were released in exchange of the hostages.
The defence chiefs wanted the crisis to be handled firmly because they believed India had the advantage after the Kargil war.
The Pakistani forces had suffered a psychological setback after being forced to withdraw from some of the crucial peaks which they had managed to hold on to following the ceasefire.
Any concession to the hijackers, “backed by the Pakistani establishment”, would thus revive their confidence.
A rejuvenated Pakistani army would mean more isolated skirmishes and exchange of artillery fire along the Line of Control, the service chiefs felt.
Sources said Tipnis strongly suggested that the air force had a role to play in the hijacking.
According to him, the air force could have alerted its fighter planes which could have blocked the path of ascent of the hijacked airbus from Amritsar or forced it to land within India even after it had taken off.
When the plane that dropped arms in Purulia in 1995 was flying over Mumbai, Indian Air Force planes pursued it and forced it to land at Mumbai airport.
Judgment Day dawns on 31 January, 2000. A curtain-raiser to the courtroom of 4th sessions judge P.K. Biswas.
Backdrop: On the night of December 17, 1995, arms and ammunition are ‘dropped’ over villages in Purulia.
The next morning, officials from the Jhalda and Jaipur police stations seize boxes with sophisticated arms and ammunition and three parachutes from the site.
At 1.39 am on December 22, the air traffic control (ATC) at Mumbai airport orders an AN-26B flying from Chennai to Karachi to land. It is kept at bay for more than an hour and then refuelled. But at the time of clearance, immigration officials discover that one person, Kim Davy, is missing from the plane.
The passports of Peter Bleach, a British national, and five Latvian crew members are seized and all six are detained. They are produced in court on 24 December and remanded in judicial custody.
Bleach and the Latvians are brought to Calcutta and lodged in Presidency Jail, Alipore, on January 1, 1996.
On March 20, 1996, CBI files the chargesheet, listing offences which include abetting waging of war against the government of West Bengal and violation of the Arms Act.
The case is transferred to the sessions bench where charges are framed by justice A.K. Bishi on June 6, 1996.
Later, Vinay Singh of Bihar is charged with abetting waging of war after being `spotted’ at the site on a motorbike soon after the `drop’.
While Bleach decides to fight his own case, the Latvians are represented by advocate S. Singhvi. CBI appoints advocate Sisir Ghosh.
The Courtroom Drama:
With the case against Vinay Singh hardly making any headway and Singhvi wrapping up his argument of “no evidence” against his clients in four days, the Bleach vs CBI battle takes centre-stage.
Over 13 days, Bleach strives to establish “lack of evidence”, “tampering and falsification of evidence”, and “suppression of facts” by the CBI.
Some salient points of Bleach’s counter-attack:
According to the CBI’s own evidence, the aircraft took off from Varanasi at 11 pm, arrived at Dhanbad 1 minute before time and at Calcutta 6 minutes before time, so it couldn’t possibly have taken a detour through Purulia. Deviation in the Varanasi-Calcutta route would be clear from the fuel calculation report, which the CBI has withheld. Plus, no witness ‘saw’ the plane while one (PW-22) said he saw a helicopter.
Contrary to CBI claims, the ATC in Mumbai asked the aircraft to land under suspicion of not following the prescribed route, and not because the Military Liaison Unit had been alerted about this plane having dropped arms over Purulia.
The six accused were produced 56 hours after the detention at Mumbai airport and not within the mandatory 24 hours as claimed by the CBI.
The three seizure lists, pertaining to the seizure of aircraft and some arms, one dated 23.12.95, and two dated 24.12.95, have been “fabricated by the CBI”.
The CBI’s claim that the accused had not given any statement before the filing of the chargesheet is “false”. In a full statement made by Bleach to the Mumbai Police, he had revealed how he kept the British intelligence informed about Kim Davy’s plans. The British authorities, in turn, had notified the Indian government. So, Bleach was the “prime witness” and “sole informer”. This statement was “suppressed” by the CBI. He was not allowed to make a statement under Section 164 in court, once he realised that the earlier statement had been “suppressed”. This allowed the CBI to prepare the chargesheet on the basis of “fabricated documents” and “false evidence”.
Some Unanswered Questions:
Who were the conspirators?
Who were the end-users of the arms and ammunition?
Why did the Government of India not react after being informed by the home office of the UK about the operation on 10 November, 17 November and 15 December, 1995?
Why did the then joint secretary Shashi Prakash not lodge an FIR or inform the West Bengal government after he was alerted about the `arms-drop’? (He wrote a letter dated 12 December, 1995, which reached the chief secretary after the incident, by registered post.)
How did Kim Davy manage to walk away?
What is the truth?
Voices on eve of D-Day:
Peter Bleach: This is a clear case of falsification of evidence and suppression of facts. But I still have faith in the Indian judiciary.
Deepak Prahladka, petitioner and legal adviser to Bleach: To try and tie up all loose ends, the CBI has indulged in fraudulent practices amounting to daylight robbery in open court.
S. Singhvi: There is absolutely no evidence against my clients. But I am keeping my fingers crossed.
U.N. Biswas, joint-director (east), CBI: This is a very important case for the CBI. And it will also prove vital for every student of criminology.
Dr John E. Mitchiner, UK deputy high commissioner: “We are watching the court proceedings very closely. We have been providing all consular support to Bleach, but have obviously not interfered in the process of law.”.
Teddy Taylor, Tory MP: Peter appears to be the victim of a colossal cover-up effected by both the British and Indian authorities. I hope he finds justice in the Indian court.