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Yashwant Sinha Joins TMC, Says Mamata Banerjee Had Offered Herself as Hostage in Kandahar Skyjack

Yashwant Sinha Joins TMC, Says Mamata Banerjee Had Offered Herself as Hostage in Kandahar Skyjack

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Manas Dasgupta

KOLKATA, Mar 13: The former union minister Yashwant Sinha has disclosed another side of the West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

Banerjee and Sinha, who were cabinet colleagues in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee ministry from 1998, later had changed their paths. But recalling his days as the cabinet minister and colleague of Banerjee when the country was seized with the prevailing tension in the wake of the hijacking of the Indian Airlines plane to Kandahar in 1999, Banerjee, a Union Cabinet Minister then, had offered herself as a hostage in exchange for the passengers of the flight.

The 83-year old former senior BJP leader said the Trinamool chief had been a “fighter” right from the beginning. “I have worked with her (Banerjee) under Prime Minister Atal Bihar Vajpayee. I can tell you she has been a fighter from early on and she is still a fighter,” he said today.

“I want to tell you today that when the Indian Airlines plane was hijacked to Kandahar, there was a discussion happening in the Cabinet. Mamatji offered to go herself as a hostage on the condition that the Indians are released in exchange. She was ready to make that sacrifice,” he said.

The two got re-united on Saturday with Sinha, who had quit the BJP in 2018 after being totally sidelined by the prime minister Narendra Modi on ground of retiring from party politics all leaders above the age of 75, joined the Trinamool Congress in the presence of senior TMC leaders in Kolkata on Saturday.

After being at the receiving end for the last few weeks with a steady flow of the TMC elected members and party workers making a beeline to the BJP, Sinha was considered to be a prize catch for the Trinamool to make up for the loss of its Rajya Sabha member Dinesh Trivedi who after decades in the TMC crossed over to the BJP last week.

Before joining the Trinamool, Sinha who represented Hazaribagh Lok Sabha constituency in Bihar that has common border with West Bengal, met recuperating Banerjee at her residence in the Kalighat locality.

Banerjee was Railway Minister to PM Vajpayee when the Kandahar hijacking took place. IC 814, an Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport, bound for Delhi, was flown to Kandahar with stops in between, including one in Amritsar. The government was criticised back then for handing over captured terrorists in return for the hostages whom the hijackers had threatened to kill.

The crisis ended only when India released three terrorists – Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, and Masood Azhar. Sheikh and Azhar went on to carry out further acts of terror like the journalist Danel Pearl’s murder and the 2008 Mumbai terror attack.

“You will be surprised at today’s development as to why at this age I am joining a party when I had withdrawn myself from party politics. This is because the country is passing through crucial times,” Sinha said.

Sinha said he decided to join the party after the recent “attack” on West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on March 10. “The tipping point was the attack on Mamataji in Nandigram. It was this moment that I decided to join TMC and support her,” he said.

The 83- year-old politician said democracy did not only mean that elections after five years. “The country is facing an unprecedented situation today. The strength of democracy lies in the strength of the institutions of democracy. All these institutions, including the judiciary, have become weak now,” said Sinha right after joining Trinamool.

He raised several issues at the press meet, including the ongoing farmers’ agitation and the border situation with China. He also sought to draw a comparison between the Narendra Modi government and that of his former boss, Vajpayee.

“There is no one to stop the government’s wrongdoing. The BJP during Atal ji‘s time believed in consensus but today’s government believes in crushing and conquering. The Akalis, the BJD have left the BJP. Today, who is standing with BJP?” Sinha said.

Coming to the elections, he cast doubts on the poll body, too: “I say it with a lot of responsibility that the Election Commission is no longer a neutral body.”

Sinha first became Finance Minister in November 1990 and stayed in office till June 1991, serving under Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar. His second tenure stretched between December 1998 and July 2002 under PM Vajpayee. From then to May 2004, he was India’s Foreign Minister.

A former IAS officer of the 1960 batch, he joined politics in 1984, starting off with the Janata Party after quitting government service. He later joined the BJP.

 

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