BJP seal on Kandahar claim

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By SANJAY K. JHA in Delhi
  • Published 24.03.08

New Delhi, March 24: The BJP today formally endorsed L.K. Advani’s newest “revelation” on the hostage-terrorist trade-off during the December 1999 Kandahar hijack, with Jaswant Singh looking isolated.

Advani told an interviewer on Saturday that he had been in the dark — till the last minute — about the plan to send then foreign minister Jaswant on the plane carrying the freed terrorists to Kandahar.

Some in the BJP have misgivings about the belated claim by Advani, who was home minister in the then government, headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But nobody is willing to confront him at a time he is in full control of the party and Vajpayee is not in a position to defend himself.

Many also feel that it would help the BJP if Advani succeeds in exorcising the Kandahar ghost by making Jaswant the sacrificial lamb.

“It is true (that) Advani was not aware that Jaswant would accompany the terrorists. He came to know only when he (Jaswant) was going,” BJP spokesman Rajiv Pratap Rudy said in answer to reporters’ questions today.

This set off a barrage of further questions.

Rudy was asked how the home minister could be unaware of such a crucial decision, and whether the supposedly all-powerful “Iron Man” really got enough importance from Vajpayee’s office.

A third question was whether the decision to accompany the terrorists was Jaswant’s own or that of the Prime Minister’s Office.

Rudy somehow wriggled himself free by explaining that Advani was part of the decision, taken by the cabinet committee on security, to release the terrorists but the meeting had not discussed the details of their trip to Kandahar.

It was clear that the party didn’t feel any need to protect Jaswant and would go along with Advani, its Prime Minister candidate. Efforts to contact Jaswant proved futile.

The hijack and the December 2001 Parliament attack have been blots on the Vajpayee government’s record, and the Congress has used them to blunt the BJP’s campaign on terrorism.

Advani often counters criticism relating to the Parliament attack by citing how all the militants were killed and the mastermind convicted, but he has no defence on Kandahar.

His aides feel the best option for Advani — whom the party is trying to project as a strong leader in comparison with the “weak” Manmohan Singh — is to distance himself from the terrorist trade-off.

There have been whispers about his opposition to the release of the three militants but they haven’t had the desired effect. Therefore, the categorical “revelation” now.

Jaswant does not have a political base and is disliked by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. BJP sources say he was promoted as the party’s leader in the Rajya Sabha only because Advani wanted to weaken arch-rival Murli Manohar Joshi.

The sources feel Jaswant may have annoyed Advani by airing his contrary opinions on Ayodhya and Jinnah. The former foreign minister has not commented on the latest controversy although Advani insisted through the interview that it was for Jaswant to clarify the issues.