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January 1, 2000
CMG, PMO trade charges
Josy Joseph in New Delhi
While the passengers on board Indian Airlines Flight 814 struggled to survive the Kandahar crisis, two of the most powerful lobbies in India were fighting it out to shift the blame for delay in terminating the hijack.
In fact, the stand-off between the Indian Administrative Services lobby and the Prime Minister's Office is still far from resolved with each claiming that the other was responsible for the Amritsar fiasco.
The IAS lobby has thrown its weight behind Cabinet Secretary Prabhat Kumar and other top officials who were part of the Crisis Management Group. They have said the delay in initiating action at Amritsar was primarily due to the PMO's inability to arrive at a decision quickly.
Sources said it was under pressure from the PMO that the conversation between the Air Traffic Control Tower at Amritsar and the pilot of the hijacked plane was made public.
A senior IAS officer, a former office-bearer of an IAS association, said that "a commando operation'' at Amritsar could not have been carried out without clearance from the PMO.
He insisted that "political leadership in Delhi'' was misleading the media into believing that it was the Cabinet secretary who should have taken the decision. "There were 160 lives involved. Do you think an administrative official can take a decision in such a delicate situation? It was for the political leadership to act," he pointed out.
The senior officer pointed out that the "final decision to resolve the crisis was taken by the Cabinet Committee on Security, but the PMO expected the CMG to take the decision in Amritsar...isn't that a strange argument?"
The anger of the IAS lobby is directed primarily at the prime minister's principal secretary and National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra, who they claim has been telling media persons that serious action was likely to be taken against senior officials.
This, however, could not be confirmed independently.
The Cabinet did discuss action against some bureaucrats, but once this was reported in the media, the government issued a denial.
The PMO believes it was the CMG's responsibility to see that the plane did not take off from Amritsar and that a crack commando team of the National Security Guard was sent to storm the aircraft.
They also claim the prime minister was not informed about the hijacking for almost 40 minutes.
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