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December 29, 1999
Kargil widows warn against softness
Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi
In a bid to counter the growing pressure from the anxious and angry relatives of the passengers on board the ill-fated Indian Airlines flight IC 814, the government yesterday attempted to mobilise the widows of the Kargil martyrs. Immediately after a press conference addressed by External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, journalists were taken to meet a group of about 20 persons who declared that the government must not buckle to the hijackers' demand.
Incidentally, two days back the widow of Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja, who was shot down during the Kargil war, urged the relatives of the passengers aboard flight IC 814 not to lose hope and not to give in to the terrorists' demands. Today's group comprised the widows and parents of those officers and soldiers who died in the Kargil war, besides the wives of army officers and soldiers serving at present in Kashmir.
The most articulate in the group was retired Colonel (retired) Virendra Thapar, father of the martyred Lieutenant Vijayant Thapar. Vijayant Thapar, who was killed in the Kargil war, was posthumously awarded a Vir Chakra for his bravery. The group members insisted that they empathised with the agony of the waiting relatives but warned that giving in to the hijackers' demand would only increase militancy and terrorism in the country. "We understand the feelings of the relatives whose near and dear ones are on board the aircraft. After all, we all here have also lost our relatives in the Kargil war or to terrorist attacks in Kashmir. And that is why we want to tell them that they must be brave in the face of such odds," said Virendra Thapar.
Thapar added that the fight against terrorism was the fight not just of the military but of the entire nation and people. "If our enemies see us weaken so easily, they will only get bolder and carry out more such hijackings and terrorist activities. Hence it is imperative that we don't lose our courage and hope," he said. However, when asked whether they had gone to meet the relatives, they replied in the negative. "We did try to meet them today, but they had already left the prime minister's residence," said Thapar.
However, the group did meet Prime Minister A B Vajpayee and urged him not to give in to the hijackers' demands. The group also denied that they had been organised by the government to counter the pressure from the relatives of the passengers, who have been urging the government to meet the hijackers' demand and free Masood Azhar.
Sudheendra Kulkarni, who is an advisor to the prime minister, later insisted that while the Kargil widows' group had been brought to meet the press by the government, they [the widows] had taken the initiative on their own. "These women had seen the relatives demonstrating yesterday on television and decided that they must tell the prime minister to be firm. So they organised themselves and contacted us, and we only brought them to meet you," he said.
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