On January 22, 1993 Satish Chandra Pandey hijacked flight IC810. On board the Focker F-27 en route from Lucknow, was journalist Christopher Kremmer along with 47 other traumatised passengers as the hijacker threw fake paper bombs and surrendered. Despite the probono services of a star lawyer it took four years to get conditional bail. He was not permitted to leave his village except to report monthly to the Lucknow Police. Meanwhile his father and mother died.
Five years later, Kremmer decided to pay Satish a visit. The small, imperfectly formed man did not recognise the journalist in his jacket and tie. Kremmer told a ‘half truth’: he had heard of Satish defence of the temple movement and wanted his views on the upcoming 1998 elections.
Before arriving from the fields, the family filled in the family back story. Son of a junior commissioned officer of the Ordinance Department, his rootless upbringing took him across the country, changing schools and once evicted from a missionary school when he and others reported the illicit relationship of some teachers. His wife died giving birth to a child that did not survive.
On bail, as eldest son he had responsibility of hours of backbreaking labour on the farm. For three generations his poor Brahmin family had owned eight bighas, about five hectares, in the ‘cow belt’ of Uttar Pradesh. The five villages of Saraiya Maafi have no running water, and no electricity people carry 12 volt batteries five kilometres for recharge. The nearest landline phone was 19 kilometres.
Once the home of patrician Congressman a more secular India at times has made UP’s cow milking Yadavs and Sighs the butt of jokes for their betel nut chewing earthy speech. The Cow Belt, once honoured for between the Himalayas and Vindhya mountains is now derided as crude, backward, lawless, poor and illiterate.
Still, in the cow belts of UP, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan politicians routinely declare their love of the cow.
Premature hints of gray, betrayed his a teen like face, and youthful black hair, Side on his smile seemed more the grimace of a man who longed to be happy. His furtive glances e seemed to need to be seen giving darshan to this foreign visitor. A small crowd of children gathered.
“Having spent years thinking of him as an irresponsible fool, my subconscious had tricked me into expecting contrition, not pride.” The 1857 Rebellion had been triggered by UP Brahmin Mangal Pandey and Satish Pandey was equally defiant.
Panday was protesting against the then prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao’s assurance-soon after the demolition of the Babri Masjid-that “it will be reconstructed”.
“I was ready to die. Ready for the pilot to lose control, or for the commando’s to shoot me. In any case, I knew, I didn’t need to buy a return ticket. The night before leaving the village, I showed the family my air ticket, I said, “I have to go to Delhi.””
He asked his brother to cycle him 19 kilometres to the train station and told him “make sure you get tomorrow’s newspaper.” However, police would arrive to search the family home before they had a chance to pick up a copy.
In the Spiritual hypermarket of Hinduism, the many gods express the humanities diversity and the many hidden parts our psyche. This allows us to express the polytheistic nature of our competing inner life.
The Bhakti movement rejected ritual sacrifices and knowledge in favour of love and devotion often to the divine avatars of Rama or Krishna. A person of the West is probably familiar with devotees people chant with ecstatic devotion the names of Krishna. They claim in the degraded present age of Kali, the meaning of caste and ritual is so corrupted and chanting the names of God is enough.
Bhakti would become a nationalist force. Aurobindu Ghost called on the divine warrior Kali to cleanse India of Britain. Long before Britain claimed the unemployed ex mercenaries turned criminals were a religious fanatics, were over sexualised Thuggees determined to destroy civilization.
The activist Tilak used the Bhagavad Gita to call for violent overthrow. Gandhi, on the other hand, claimed a Bhakti of ahimsa, or non violence, twisting the Gita‘s call for the warrior Arjuna to fight injustice into a spiritual struggle for non violence. His interpretation was similar to Jesus Sermon on the Mount and was influenced by Tolstoy’s interpretations of Jesus words.
Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse invoked the Gita when blaming the massacres of Partition on Gandhi’s ahimsa.
Ronaldshay described the Tantric image of Chinnamasta, who cut off her own head to feed others as “symbolized the Motherland (India) ‘decapitated by the English, but nevertheless preserving her vitality unimpaired by drinking her own blood’.”
One act of Nationalist Bhakti that inspired Satish Sandra Pandey was the call by Lal Krishna Advani for the construction of a Rama temple at Ayodhya where a mosque stood over an ancient temples remains. It is claimed the birthplace of Rama.
Only India and Nepal are Hindu nations, reasoned the hijacker, their are Christian, Buddhist and Muslim lands, so why cannot India defend her religious integrity? A month after the demolition of the Babri Mosque, Satish decided to act as Hindu nationalist leaders were rounded up to prison to try as attempts were made to keep social order.
It seems he was noticed in high places he said. Asked about being publicly scolded by Vajpayee for using “wrong methods”, Satish suggested the journalist should know better.
“Atal-ji has to talk like that. He’s a politician. He doesn’t need to promise to liberate Hindu sites. People like me will take care of that.”
The Mask, as the Opposition leader was called, could smile selling hard-line policies and Satish returned with a personally signed letter from Atal Bihari Vajpayee dated June 27, 1996 typed in English with the official letterhead of the leader of the opposition.
“I share your grief” Mr Vajpayee had written, in condolence of the death of the hijackers father. “I pray to the Lord for your fathers soul and [to] give the family members the strength t bare this.”
Kremmer was shocked describing “the nexus of mainstream politicians and the mob is one of Indian democracies unhappy features.”
Recognition came in prison, Satish claimed, when the BJP leader Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, also jailed at that time, bribed guards to spend time with him.
Their cause was united but patient and cautious Vajpayee methods differed to the gamble of desperate Satish. Vajpayee could lose much, Satish had nothing to lose. Both were part of a loose confederation of the Hindu nationalist family or Sangh Parivar.
Perhaps Kremmer had the last laugh.
Kremmer slyly admitted to a “hidden purpose” and explained four five years his plan had been brewing from the fateful day when, flying to be reunited with his fiancé, 48 eight passengers had been hijacked had been traumatised.
“The revelation that he was sitting accross from one of his own victims drew a sharp intake of breath from the hijacker. His eyes darted left and right, vainly searching for support from among his audience of children and ruminants. ‘But what did I do?’ his helpless, innocent expression seemed to say. He was, I realised fearful. Had I come alone? Was I armed with some form of weapon, legal or otherwise? Now Satish knew what it was to be ambushed. He might be sitting in the courtyard outside is own home, in his own village, in his own country but, suddenly, anything could happen to him. If I felt as strongly about honour,a premeditated act of violent revenge was not out of the question. He could be a dead man.
Reaching into my pocket, I produced a white handkerchief which I used to wipe the barfi crumbs off my fingers. Then I extended my hand towards the hijacker in friendship.
“Koi baat nahin” I said to him. It doesn’t matter.
I have never seen anyone look so relieved. The realisation that he was Okay, that he would not suffer the consequences released an audible gasp from the young farmer.
“You didn’t think I wanted to take revenge did you?” I said ribbing him. He laughed ruefully, apologising for any inconvenience to my family. He called for more sweets, the traditional gesture of felicitation.
However, the bravodo returned. He had no regrets.
“You know, the Hindu nation was threatened. And if the Hindu nation is threatened, I will do anything.”
“When the law respects Hindu sentiment, then I will respect he law.”
But what is Hindu sentiment in a religion of diverse and conflicting views? The Mahabharata reveals the complexity of human aspiration and duty. “Dharma is subtle” says the sage, and like modern politics each opposing camp has justifiable concerns.
We have various levels of understanding and expression, the many nations of India it is hard to find unity of what can be condemned?
The story raises in me some questions:
Modern India is proclaimed a Sovereign, Socialist (officially since Indira Gandhi), Secular, and Democratic Republic. A nation is expected to defend her soveriegnty, but civilization means the law is taken from the hands of vigilantes and placed into the hands of appointed leaders.
A core existential value is truth. Gandhi claimed God is truth, but admitted that in hi pursuit of this ideal at times his own personal truth changed. God is the only absolute truth.
The path of truth, or Shreya, can be unpleasant and ruthless as is shown in the Hindu epic of the Mahabharata. But Untruth, or Priya, seems to have taken hold under the tide of populist politics. Many now hope with a change of Government will grasp hold of India’s challenges and tackle them.
Tolerance and compassion are also theological values. Unfortunately the fault lines of tribalism between caste, village and ethnicity has reduced tolerance to a buzz word. Many individual groups fought for freedom from Britain, but seem to find it difficult to accept the right of any authority – even an Indian one – over their own sectional interests. It seems strange compassion moves city governments to desex stray dogs, rather than put them down, but allow homeless to die exposed to the elements.
I fear the likes of Satish Chandra Pandey would only find another fight if their goal was achieved.
The soft-spoken former External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh once had the indignity of escorting terrorists and setting them free in exchange for passengers of hijacked flight IC 814 in 1999, had some excellent advice. “The best security against forces inimical to India is for us to remain united. A divided India can only benefit its adversaries.”
But will people listen?
“I am nobody to advise anybody. I am a stray passenger in this train of politics, party colleagues act as they see fit,” says the former minister to the (then) Prime Minister Vajpayee .