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December 31, 1999
More and more people want government to act tough
Onkar Singh in Delhi
As the hijack crisis entered its eighth day today, a clear shift was visible in the mood at the Indira Gandhi International Airport where a large number of relatives of the hostages have been gathering every day for the latest from Kandahar. The criticism of the government is now muted and more and more people are coming round to the view that the government should not give in to the militants's demands.
Jaggan Mohan Raju, whose wife airhostess Thapa Debnath is on the hijacked aircraft, said he was quite confident that the outcome of the prolonged negotiations would be positive.
About his wife, he said he had absolutely no doubt that she could withstand the ordeal. "She is married to Indian Airlines before she is married to me. She is a brave woman and a doting mother. The crew of the Indian Airlines comprise of brave people and I am sure once this nightmare is over, they would all be laughing over it," he said.
Surprisingly, the man who he thinks has been most supportive in the past seven days is Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu. He said Naidu has been in touch with them on a daily basis through his members of Parliament. "At least one member of Parliament from the Telugu Desam Party is with us every day...It's a great source of strength.''
Raju said though the negotiations may take time, the government should not release any militant for the sake of the hostages.
R S Tolia, a senior-ranking government official from Pithoragarh in Uttar Pradesh, emphasised that the government should not buckle under pressure and make the same mistake that previous governments had made.
His wife Manju, who was in Nepal to attend a seminar, is on the aircraft with her colleagues Anita Joshi and Dr K K Sharma.
Tolia condemned the behaviour of some relatives who went on the rampage at Rajiv Gandhi Bhavan, where the crisis management group was meeting, a few days ago.
"I have faith in my government and I am sure it is doing everything to secure safe release of all hostages. I am an administrator myself and I know how the government works. They cannot tell us everything," he said.
Tolia and his two daughters have been living at the IG airport ever since Flight 814 was hijacked over Lucknow on December 24 and taken to Kandahar in Afghanistan.
Dr Pradeep Thukural of Bhopal had come to Delhi on December 24 to receive Nepal's rajguru (royal priest) Guruji Krishhanandji Maharaj. "I hope the whole thing ends soon on a happy note, bringing relief to the families of those who are being held hostage on the plane. The king of Nepal is concerned about the hijacking because his rajguru is on the aircraft," he said.
Though airport authorities claim they have made extensive arrangements to provide regular updates on the situation in Kandahar, relatives are no longer depending on them for information.
"What is the point? They tell us nothing new. We get the news first on the television," said a relative, who is nevertheless been spending a good part of his day at the airport every day.
Indian Airlines officials, however, maintained that people do come to them for information. "We have set up over half a dozen centres to disseminate information. Top-ranking officials man these centres round-the-clock. Forty junior officials are present all the time to attend to the people waiting at the airport,'' said a senior official.
He revealed a medical team has been posted at the airport. "We have a resource crunch, but we are not letting that hamper our assistance efforts. When some passengers arrived from Dubai we did everything to ensure that they reached home safely. We hired more then hundred cars for this.''
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