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Right time, wrong place

What if L.K. Advani’s helicopter were to land at a rally meant for Sonia Gandhi or vice versa? Impossible?

india Updated: Nov 14, 2008 01:00 IST
Shekhar Iyer

What if L.K. Advani’s helicopter were to land at a rally meant for Sonia Gandhi or vice versa? Impossible?

Not in a forested state like Chhattisgarh where wrong landings are not only possible but can leave red faces all around as state Congress leader Ajit Jogi discovered recently.

On a whirlwind tour of the state, Jogi's chopper landed at Pakhanjor where the BJP had organised a rally for Navjyot Singh Sidhu of the Great Indian Laughter Challenge fame.

Disappointed that it was not the BJP MP from Amritsar whose performance they had for waiting for, the crowd grew restive at the landing strip in the Antagarh assembly segment of the Kanker Lok Sabha seat.

But before things got out of control Jogi’s pilot got the chopper airborne again.

Still no sign of the chopper carrying Sidhu, party organisers began making frantic calls from their mobiles. They were told Sidhu wouldn’t be able to make it that day. By then, the thoroughly disappointed crowd vowed not to let anyone else address them.

Sidhu couldn’t make it the second day either as demands for him at rallies kept him airborne far away from Pakhanjor. Finally, in a bid to assuage the people, the BJP’s campaign managers asked Maharashtra leader Nitin Gadkari, who was flying close by, to stand in for Sidhu.

As Gadkari’s chopper was about to land, the pilot noticed that the crowd looked menacingly at the machine, realising it was not Sidhu who was landing to address them. The pilot decided to fly out.

Later, BJP managers sent word to Pakhanjor that Sidhu was sorry he couldn’t make it this time.

BJP leaders said they were thanking God for not facing any violence in Naxalite-affected Chhattisgarh as party leader Venkaiah Naidu encountered during the Bihar elections. In January 2005, the helicopter in which the former BJP chief was travelling made an emergency landing in the remote Naxal-affected Pararia village in Gaya district.

The local people ferried him to safety. However, about a couple of hours later, Naxalites attacked the helicopter with petrol bombs and set it ablaze. Naidu managed to escape by riding pillion on a motorcycle into Jharkhand territory. The pilot who stayed back was also rescued.