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Family relives air nightmare

March 8: The family of a former Union minister who died in an air crash four decades ago were in agony this evening, fearing a repeat of the tragedy.

Canadian-Indian Muktesh Mukherjee, the 42-year-old grandson of Indira Gandhi’s steel and mines minister Mohan Kumaramangalam, was among the 227 passengers on board the Malaysia Airlines flight that has been missing since the early hours today.

Muktesh is the vice-president of operations in China for the Pennsylvania-based XCoal Energy and Resources.

Five Indian citizens too were on the flight, as was Muktesh’s 37-year-old Chinese wife, Xiaomao Bai.

Kumaramangalam was killed on May 30, 1973, when an Indian Airlines flight crashed just before it was to land at New Delhi’s Palam Airport.

“We’re living in fear of a second disaster in the air in our family,” a member of Muktesh’s family said.

Mohan Kumaramangalam’s Dubai-based elder daughter Uma, the mother of Muktesh, left for Beijing early this morning after hearing news of the Malaysia Airlines flight’s disappearance.

The five Indian passengers represented the typical mix of families travelling to visit relatives and professionals flying in connection with their work that constitutes airline manifests around the world.

Vinod Kolekar, 58, was travelling with wife Chetana, 55, and son Swanand, 22, to meet another son, Sanved, who lives and works in Beijing, Indian officials in New Delhi and Kuala Lumpur said.

NGO activists Chandrika Sharma, 51, and Kranti Prahlad Shirshath, 43, were visiting Beijing to catch transit flights.

Sharma, a Chennai resident, was headed to Ulan Bator in Mongolia for a Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) meeting, officials said. Shirshath was headed to Pyongyang in North Korea where he works with a non-profit group that helps tackle natural disasters.

Muktesh studied at BITS Mesra before leaving for Canada to pursue higher studies. After postgraduating from Montreal’s McGill University, he joined ArcelorMittal — a company where his father Malay Mukherjee held a senior executive position for almost two decades — before leaving for XCoal.

Malay was the youngest executive director of public-sector steel giant SAIL posted at Bhilai in 1993 when Lakshmi Niwas Mittal asked him to join his Ispat Group. He retired from the group as a board member and joined Essar.

He now works independently in the steel sector.

“We are trying to gather information and get the family together. It’s a very sad time for us,” said Muktesh’s cousin Mangaljit Mukherjee, a Supreme Court lawyer.

“Muktesh was never based in Calcutta but he has relatives in Calcutta.”

Muktesh’s family is spread not just across continents but across political parties too. Mohan Kumaramangalam was a veteran of the Indian communist movement before he joined the Congress in 1967.

When the Congress split, he stayed loyal to Indira, who appointed him steel and mines minister in 1971. His sister Parvathy Krishnan was three-time MP from the CPI.

Kumaramangalam’s son Phanindranath Rangarajan Kumaramangalam started his political career with the Congress before joining the BJP. He was power minister under Atal Bihari Vajpayee and died in 2000.

Mohan Kumaramangalam’s younger daughter Lalitha is a member of the BJP national executive and lives in Chennai.

Sharma, executive secretary at the International Collective in Support of Fish-workers (ICSF), was to present at the FAO meeting a paper on the livelihood of fish workers and sustainable fisheries, said ICSF adviser Sebastian Mathew.

“She was working to draw the FAO’s attention to the issues faced by small-scale fish workers,” Mathew said, describing Sharma as a committed worker and a wonderful parent.

Sharma, who is from Haryana, has been living in Chennai for the past 20 years with husband K.S. Narendran, a management consultant. Their daughter Meghna studies English literature at Delhi’s Ambedkar University.

“The family is in a state of shock,” Mathew said.

Foreign office spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin told The Telegraph: “Our high commissioner in Kuala Lumpur has personally spoken to the families of all the five Indian nationals on the flight.”

Canadian embassy officials confirmed that Ottawa was in touch with the families of Muktesh and Bai.

Reporting by Charu Sudan Kasturi, Sambit Saha, Jhinuk Mazumdar and G.C. Shekhar


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