Rahul to Modi: Who released Masood?
Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Saturday opened a fresh front in his campaign against the BJP by asking Prime Minister Narendra Modi to tell the people which government was in power when terrorist Masood Azhar was released from an Indian jail.
Azhar, who later went on to form the Jaish-e-Mohammed, had been released by the then BJP government under the stewardship of Atal Bihari Vajpayee as part of a deal to free the Kandahar plane hijack hostages in December 1999. The Jaish has carried out several terror attacks in India, including the February 14 Pulwama suicide bomb strike in which 40 CRPF soldiers were killed.
Launching his election campaign in Karnataka, Rahul reminded a massive gathering in Haveri in the state’s north that it was the earlier BJP-lead NDA government that had released Azhar and that Modi’s national security adviser Ajit Doval, who was then Intelligence Bureau director, had escorted the terrorist to Kandahar in Afghanistan.
“Some days ago CRPF people were killed in Pulwama. I am asking the Prime Minister a small question. Who killed the CRPF soldiers? What is the name of the Jaish-e-Mohammed chief?… Masood Azhar,” Rahul asked.
“You explain to me who sent Masood Azhar from an Indian jail to Pakistan? Didn’t your earlier BJP government take him and send him to Pakistan?” the Congress chief went on, addressing the rally in a constituency that has remained loyal to the BJP since 2004.
Rahul suggested that the then government had botched up the rescue of 160 passengers and crew of the IC 814 Indian Airlines Airbus A300.
The Congress president urged Modi to tell the people who killed the CRPF soldiers. “Why don’t you say this in your speech? Why don’t you say that the man who killed the CRPF soldiers was sent to Pakistan by a BJP government?” Rahul said.
Referring to the negotiating team that escorted the prisoners who were to be released, including Azhar, Rahul said: “Didn’t you send your (current) NSA (Ajit Doval) and (then foreign minister) Jaswant Singh on the same plane?”
The then BJP government had tasked Singh and officials from various departments, including then Intelligence Bureau chief Doval, with ending the hostage crisis.
“Go to the Internet and see pictures of Masood Azhar with Ajit Doval, who is now the NSA,” Rahul said, referring to photographs from a non-functional Kandahar airport that the Taliban had taken over.
The flight, hijacked after taking off from Kathmandu, had touched down in Amritsar for refuelling before heading out of the country and eventually landing in the Taliban fortress of Kandahar. Failure to stop the hijacked plane in Amritsar was seen as a blunder.
“Modiji, we are not like you. We won’t bow before terrorism,” Rahul said, suggesting that after mishandling the rescue operation, the then BJP-led government had buckled under pressure and freed the militants.
The Kathmandu-Delhi flight had been hijacked on Christmas Eve in 1999.
The crisis ended after the Vajpayee government released Azhar and two other terrorists — Omar Sheikh and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar — in exchange for the passengers and crew.
Azhar then formed the Jaish, which in 2001 carried out the attack on India’s Parliament. Sheikh lured Daniel Pearl, a journalist from The Wall Street Journal, with the promise of an interview and beheaded him before circulating the gruesome video footage.
At Saturday’s rally, Rahul criticised the Modi government’s performance over the past five years. “He said he wanted to become a chowkidar. ‘Don’t make me Prime Minister, make me a chowkidar,’ do you remember his speech? Today we face the worst unemployment situation in 45 years,” the Congress president said, referring to Modi’s promise of 2 crore jobs a year.
Rahul persisted with his questions on why Modi allegedly held “parallel negotiations” with France on the Rafale deal, why the price of each jet became three times more than what had been agreed upon by the then UPA government and why the offset contract was given to Anil Ambani and not the public sector Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.