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January 1, 2000
Advani unhappy with release of terrorists
Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi
Union Home Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani opposed the Vajpayee Cabinet's decision to obtain the release of the Indian passengers held hostage in Kandahar by releasing three hard-core terrorists, top government sources said.
The sources told rediff.com that the home minister's note of dissent came during yesterday's Cabinet meeting. Advani underscored that releasing the terrorists would be tantamount to India bowing to the blackmail of the Taliban aided and abetted by Pakistan.
Advani pointed out that the terrorists' release would fuel terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir with a vengeance again, and all the good work done by the government would come undone.
A few other Bharatiya Janata Party politicians, including Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan, also questioned Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's reading that his government had no option but to bow to the hijackers. But Mahajan is learnt to have fallen in line with Vajpayee and External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh's argument that the government had no alternative.
According to the sources, a few allies of the government too supported Advani's contention that the release of the three terrorists would be a self-destructive act.
"Apart from demoralisation of the security forces, the government has been perceived as eating crow," home ministry officials pointed out. "How the government will regain its credibility after this is difficult to see, because those directly affected by the decision will not forget it in a hurry."
Advani was not available for comment. But his personal assistant, Deepak Chopra, denied that the home minister had dissented on the issue of releasing the three terrorists.
According to the sources, both Vajpayee and Jaswant Singh assured Advani till Thursday that there was no question of agreeing to release the three terrorists. But the Taliban's act of bringing in militia men and surrounding the Indian Airlines Airbus with rocket-launchers, a tank and armoured personnel carriers convinced the government that the aircraft could not be stormed without harming the passengers and crew.
Advani, however, continued to remain dead-set against releasing the terrorists and preferred to explore other options. But seeing that Vajpayee, supported by Jaswant Singh, would have his way ultimately, Advani kept quiet. His dissent, however, was "palpable" in the Cabinet meeting, the sources said.
Now it is learnt that supporters of the home minister, both in the BJP and the ruling National Democratic Alliance, are planning to meet in the next few days to assess what they perceive as "irreparable damage" to the government's image. "The home minister's dissent does not bode well for Vajpayee," the sources said.
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