‘Kandahar: Sonia & PM said please do anything, save the passengers’

Interview/ Jaswant Singh

by Bappaditya Paul

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BJP stalwart and former Union minister, Mr Jaswant Singh’s candidature from Darjeeling seems to have offered a higher profile to the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha (GJMM). But many wonder why a leader of Mr Singh’s stature risked his political career by coming to the Queen of the Hills.

And given that he, along with Mr LK Advani, is the central figure in the relentless political attack on the BJP’s handling of the Kandahar hijack crisis by the Congress, Mr Singh’s surprise candidature from Bengal ~ where the Left Front is accusing him and his party of trying to “divide West Bengal” ~ has become the talking point.

In an exclusive interview with The Statesman, Mr Singh maintains that Dr Manmohan Singh and Mrs Sonia Gandhi had pleaded with the NDA government to ensure IC 814 passengers’ safety and says that the BJP won’t bypass the state government on the Gorkhaland issue.

Excerpts:

Why you chose to fight the Lok Sabha poll from Darjeeling?

~ I didn’t choose. My party said we need to send somebody senior to Darjeeling this time and you have to go. And being a loyal, obedient member of the party, I said fine and that’s why I am here.

One of those convicted for helping the hijacking of the IC 814 from Kathmandu when you were the external affairs minister hails from Kalimpong. Would you term it your destiny that you are now contesting the polls from Darjeeling, of which Kalimpong is a part?

~ Of course it is my destiny.

Was it not a sad day when you had to accompany the terrorists to Kandahar?

~ I didn’t have to go… but I went. Because the choice was between saving 166 lives or otherwise.If the Congress party really wishes to know about Kandahar, they may read the newspapers of those days and (refresh the memory of) their own role in the crisis.

Present-day Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Mrs (Sonia) Gandhi were present at an all party meeting two days before (the release of the terrorists) and their only requirement from the NDA government was ~ “Please do everything possible to save the passengers.”

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Your candidature from Darjeeling is largely because of the GJMM, which has a one-point agenda: Gorkhaland. What’s your specific stand on the statehood demand?

~ The BJP manifesto is quite specific on this. We are sympathetic to it, that’s why we are considering the demand.

How would you proceed with it?

~ Through consultation, through accord, and through finding a peaceful resolution by which all can conquer.

But the West Bengal government has already closed the door on the demand for a separate stat?

~ If they close the door, we will knock on the door and try and seek reconciliation with everyone.

So what you are saying is that if the NDA comes to power the Centre will go ahead ~ even if it means bypassing the state government ~ on the path to the creation of Gorkhaland, maybe by amending the Constitution?

~ The NDA government has never bypassed any state (in the past). We shall not bypass (even now) certainly, we will take the views of the state government into consideration.

What’s your reply to the Election Commission’s notice over you allegedly distributing money at Barmer?

~ I have given my reply to the CEC and no doubt the EC will take appropriate action.

(The interviewer is on the staff of The Statesman/India and this piece originally appeared in The Statesman on 19 April 2009)

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