Wednesday, March 29, 2023
HomeOpinion'Hijack baby': How IC 814 Kandahar tragedy shaped Jaswant Singh grand-daughter's life

‘Hijack baby’: How IC 814 Kandahar tragedy shaped Jaswant Singh grand-daughter’s life

After listening to people’s views for years, I now wish to ask my grandfather Jaswant Singh about his personal experience of the Kandahar hijack episode.

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I was born on this day 20 years ago – the day Indian Airlines flight IC 814 was hijacked from Kathmandu in Nepal on its way to New Delhi. My grandfather Jaswant Singh was the foreign minister of India.

As the news of Kandahar hijack shook India, my grandfather heard two cries. One was of the families of those held hostage by Pakistan’s Harkat-ul-Mujahideen terrorists on the IC 814. The other was the cry of a newborn in his family. The hijack drama not only changed India’s security story irrevocably, but it changed my life too.

Many of my family friends received the news of the IC 814 hijack and of my birth at the same time.

While my family was rejoicing my birth at the hospital, a call about the hijack took my grandfather Jaswant Singh away that day and he could not be by my side. My grandmother kept updating him about me and asked him to reach the hospital. All he told her was that something calamitous had taken place and he had to attend to it.

My family waited for him to come and perform the gutki, a Rajasthani ritual that marks the birth of a child. In this custom, parents of the newborn choose a member of the family to give honey or jaggery as the first food to the newborn. It is believed that the child imbibes the qualities of the member who gives the gutki. My parents had chosen my grandfather, Jaswant Singh, for the custom. Since he was unavailable because of the IC 814 hijack, my grandmother was worried that I would have to go hungry for hours. But my grandfather came to the hospital to perform gutki late in the evening, and left quickly to attend to the national crisis at hand.

Also read: When Vajpayee took a bus ride and it seemed peace with Pakistan was possible

Becoming India’s ‘bad luck’

Growing up, I got many nicknames from relatives and family friends, even before I got an official one. They called me “hijack baby” and “Kandahari Kumari”. Every year on my birthday, my family would always talk about the hijack tragedy. I could never really shake it off.

My brother, who is a few years older than me, would jokingly tease me saying I was ‘bad luck’ for India, sending me into an infuriated sulk.

When I was about seven or eight years old, I was the only one among my classmates and play friends who knew what hijack meant. I had heard so much about it from my family during breakfast discussions. I would sit beside my grandmother and ask her endless questions about the hijack. More than any bedtime tale, I was always eager to listen to the hijack story. She would narrate her account of that terrifying time and the role my grandfather played during the crisis. She had explained to me how he had gone to Kandahar in Afghanistan, which was under the Taliban’s control at the time, to release three terrorists in India’s custody. It was part of the negotiation deal with the hijackers, which later resulted in the end of the hostage crisis and the safe return of the passengers onboard IC 814.

My eyes gleamed with admiration for my grandfather, Jaswant Singh. To me, he reflected an aura of valour. He was like a superhero I read about in comic books.

As I grew older, I was the only one with access to his office space at home. I would explore his workplace in his absence, read through his book A Call to Honour in which he had described the episode. It filled me with intrigue and I began digging for more details.

Also read: How Modi speaks a different language with Pakistan than what Vajpayee did

My only regret

Through several conversations and debates during my school years, I gained more insight into other people’s opinions on how then-Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government had handled the situation. Many criticised the government for being ‘too soft’ and making India vulnerable. During one such discussion, a friend called my grandfather Jaswant Singh’s action an example of ‘poor decision making’.

What began as a casual chat quickly turned into a heated argument as I rigorously defended my grandfather. I tried to explain that it was not an easy decision for my grandfather and his colleagues, especially because many innocent lives were going to be impacted by it. My friend backed off and immediately switched to a lighter topic to avoid offending me.

I have one regret. Over the years of listening to viewpoints on both sides, one thing I did not do was ask my grandfather directly about his personal experience of the Kandahar hijack episode. Although I was immensely curious, I could never gather the courage to discuss it with him directly. I was too much in awe of him to have a conversation with him about Kandahar. As his granddaughter, I look up to him for being by my side on the day of my birth despite the severe crisis at hand. I respect him for his service to the nation.

As I turn 20, I believe I now have the confidence to ask my grandfather about the IC 814 hijack without fear or intimidation. But he has been unable to express himself after his head injury in 2014. I still have many questions. I will wait for his answers that I hope I will get someday soon.

The author is a student of Philosophy at Delhi University. Views are personal.

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  1. अति सुन्दर लेख बहिन ।

    जसवंत सिंह जी वो शख्सियत हैं जो न सिर्फ बाडमेर कि पहचान है बल्कि राजस्थान का गौरव है।

    में उनकी किताबों और उनके जीवन के बारे में अध्ययन कर रहा हूं ।
    ओर उन स्वर्णिम उपलब्धियो का संकलन कर रहा हूं
    दार्जिलिंग की उन वादियों से लेकर हिंगलाज माता के कपाट तक का ।
    आपने इस लेख के माध्यम से कई अनजान पहलूओ से वाकिफ कराया इसलिए लिए आपका धन्यवाद।

    ये लेख में बाड़मेर के कई व्यक्तिगत सोशल साइट पे प्रकाशित करुगा

  2. Well written Harshini. What ever happens, happens for good. Only Jaswant Singhji can answer the questions to judge the situation. God bless you immensely.

  3. Very difficult for the man sitting in the decision maker chair at that time and very easy for us to comment on it 20 years later. I am sure the decisions in such situations are taken keeping everything in consideration, yet we try to judge and analyse it thinking we are the only intelligent ones.

  4. India has no other options except to accept the demands of the hijackers, who took the plane to the abode of terrorism, added by some fifth columnists in the Indian setup, who could have acted when the plane was in Amritsar. The other countries, even the US has bowed before terrorism in such situations. The recent deal between Talibans and US for the release of some western persons in exchange by releasing some hardcore terrorists is an example. Had, Vajpayee government took a stubborn step and allowed the passengers to be killed, the same lobby which accused Jaswant of cowrdinance had torn the government for the murder of innocents.

  5. My respect for Mr Chidambaram grew manifold when he expressed in ndtv award function that he probably would have done the same what Jaswantji had done .This was contrary to his party’s position.

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