Hostage families vent anger at India's inaction

AS THE aircraft hijacking dragged into a fourth day, India's new government faced trial by public opinion. Relatives of the captive passengers on board Indian Airlines flight IC-814 vented their anger on the streets of Delhi yesterday.

The hijacking began on Friday when six armed men took control of an Airbus flying from Kathmandu to Delhi. The aircraft landed once in India, in Pakistan at Lahore, then in Dubai before flying - with some 160 people still on board - to the Afghan city of Kandahar, headquarters of the Taliban.

"The BJP [the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party] government is supposed to be supporting the public but they are no better than the last government," one man spat, as people shouted and demonstrated yesterday outside the residence of the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, in Delhi.

Some relatives stormed a press conference yesterday at the Ministry of External Affairs, where the Foreign Minister, Jaswant Singh, was in his exquisitely orotund manner saying precisely nothing. They forced their way into a building where the crisis management group that is responsible for tackling such crises of the sort was in its fourth day of deliberations, broke the locked gates of the Ministry of Civil Aviation and had running battles with security guards.

India has seen nothing like it. Here were respectable members of the urban middle class - travelling by air is an elite activity in India - behaving like trade unionists and proletarians. They were maddened into action by the sluggish and flatfooted behaviour of a coalition government whose leading party, the BJP, was voted in as the acknowledged champion of this very class.

And they had a point. The authorities bungled badly on Saturday when the aircraft landed in the north Indian city of Amritsar after being hijacked soon after leaving Kathmandu bound for Delhi. It sat on the tarmac for half an hour, but the Indian authorities allowed the minutes to tick away without taking any action.

If the aircraft had been detained - by blocking the runway, for example, or shooting out the tyres - the country, which has commandos standing by precisely for emergencies of this sort, arguably could have ended the crisis on its own terms. Instead, the aircraft flew on to Pakistan, and the crisis flew out of India's control.

The whole of yesterday passed with the government giving a passable imitation of clinical death. Mr Singh stumbled from one vapid press briefing to the next.

At the end of the long and agonising day, the Prime Minister's remark regarding the hijackers' demand for the release by India of the Sunni cleric and Islamic militia leader Maulana Masood Azhar summed it all up: "No such demand has been officially received by the government."

The country's public and its rulers seemed to be living in different epochs. The people, awash in television news bulletins, footage of the cremation of one passenger stabbed to death, and interviews with desperate families, demanded instant action. Politicians, notably Mr Singh - a patrician statesman of the old school - seemed out of their depth, stuck in an era of secret, slow-moving diplomacy.

Only the hijackers' threat that they would start killing the hostages one by one - combined with the anger of the families - galvanised the government into taking a first step, 48 hours late, towards bringing the crisis to a negotiated end.

On board the A300 Airbus at Kandahar, meanwhile, the pilot, D Sharan, told the United Nations representative that the mental and physical condition of the passengers was "bad." The aircraft was filthy, he said, and the passengers were stressed and demoralised.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test