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  • Published 8.08.00
New Delhi, Aug. 8 :     On board the Prime Minister's special aircraft last week to Srinagar, which included political heavyweights Sonia Gandhi, Somnath Chatterji and Mulayam Singh Yadav, was a low-profile person named Madan Das Devi. He was none other than the sahasarkaryavah - the joint general secretary - of the RSS, number three in the Sangh hierarchy. He is also the pointsman between the RSS and the BJP and more importantly, the Sangh and the Vajpayee government. But on returning, Devi has launched a blistering attack on the Centre and the Farooq Abdullah government for the security lapse. In the latest issue of the RSS mouthpiece Panchajanya, Devi says the Kashmir killings were as much the outcome of security lapse as Pakistan's "intention" to vitiate the atmosphere on the eve of the talks with the Hizbul Mujahideen. "So weak and poor were the security arrangements that as the militants were firing away merrily, the survivors (of the Amarnath yatra) heard them declaring loudly that nobody could do anything to them. It hurts one deeply to know that Pakistan keeps sending its terrorists to India to create such massacres which take us completely by surprise," writes Devi, advising the government to deal with such crises with an "iron hand". Citing security flaws en route the Amarnath yatra, Devi, who spoke at length with pilgrims, quoted one as saying that contrary to the rules, they were allowed to travel without a pass. "This means that a terrorist could have easily be sitting next to a genuine pilgrim in the bus to Amarnath," Devi said. The Sangh leader also quoted the security forces as saying that the militants may not have moved around fully armed: instead they could have stockpiled arms at various places. Devi said the forces told him that in Pahalgam, the terrorists reached the spot of attack unarmed and their supporters clandestinely smuggled in the arms. The RSS leader quoted pilgrims as saying that instead of helping them out, the police and administration "went out of their way" to harass them. It was alleged that the police and administration demanded a bribe of at least Rs 20,000 before a camp kitchen could be set up and food served to the yatris. Devi also quoted questions posed by Sonia Gandhi and Somnath Chatterji verbatim without comment, as if he was endorsing them. Sonia was quoted as asking how it took no less than 40 minutes for the forces to gun down just two militants. Devi also alluded to the charge that most of the pilgrims were killed in the cross-fire between the forces and the militants. Chatterji was quoted as asking the security personnel why it took them 45 minutes to penetrate a firing range of just 200 metres. The Opposition took note of Devi's unpublicised visit only today. The Congress asked how a member of a self-proclaimed "cultural" outfit like the RSS could be a member of an all-party delegation on a sensitive trip. But though BJP leaders were reluctant to explain Devi's presence - a senior Cabinet minister brushed aside press queries saying "to the best of my knowledge Devi was not there" - party insiders spoke of yet another potential controversy. According to them, the Prime Minister had initially thought of taking only Devi to Pahalgam, ostensibly to placate the RSS cadre, many of whom were on the Amarnath pilgrimage. Vajpayee had hand-picked Devi for the pointsman's role for his "good" relations with him. It was thought that since Devi was not a high-profile leader unlike K.S. Sudarshan and H.V. Seshadri, he was unlikely to catch the attention of either the media or the political establishment. Later, the Prime Minister's advisors reportedly counselled "caution" and requested him to take members of the NDA as well as the Opposition and convert the visit into an all-party one.