“Point 4875, Point 5353, Saddle, Three, Pimple Hump – this was the strange new language
an entire nation came to speak for those two months. Some, of course, caught the public imagination far more than others – Tiger Hill was to become as much of a household name as Surf washing powder.”
Barkha Dutt quoted from her article “Confessions of a war reporter” dtd 06 Mar 2006
Barkha Dutt and her bonny hairdo became an equally known topics
for discussion during the Kargil War. Her popularity prompted the character played by Preity Zinta in the Bollywood movie Lakshya based on the war. In the same article, Barkha Dutt goes on to confess the difference between the theoretical world of Journalism textbooks and the reality of reporting war from the battleground. She says that many times reporters take decisions about reporting live from the ground and turn out to be sensible but at times their decisions are susceptible to mistakes too. Her war-reporting became quite controversial with people doubting her integrity, calling her anti-national and what not.
The Rafale touchdown could be termed as another such situation where the lethal edge of Indian armed forces in general and Indian Air Force,in particular caught the attention of all media platforms. There was not just one name which could steal the attention as from foreign correspondents to our own reporters,veterans, official govt spokespersons, bureaucrats and politicians- everyone spoke at least once in a day about the “birds”. That’s what the Defence Minister called them in his tweet:
“The Birds have landed safely in Ambala.
The touch down of Rafale combat aircraft in India marks the beginning of a new era in our Military History. These multi role aircraft will revolutionise the capabilities of the @IAF_MCC.”
The Indian Ambassador to France called them both “the beauty and the beast”. And that was not all he also acknowledged that these ‘swift, nimble and deadly machines’ were being flown by the ‘best Pilots in the world’.
In June 1985, when the last major acquisition of fighter jets from the same country was undertaken, there was not so much fanfare surrounding the touchdown of the Mirages. Only a few dignitaries and media person covered the event. Indian
pilots had been training in France for six months before they brought the Mirages back. The pilots who flew the Mirages back home were filled with lot of excitement. They were the pioneers who flew a big mighty jet for their country.
Since there was no way they could do mid-air refueling in those days, they embarked on a very long journey with four refueling halts namely at Athens, Cairo, Doha and Jamnagar in India before finally landing at Gwalior. It took six more months to make them operational for deployments in IAF. These efforts by the pilots, the military and political leadership then reaped us big dividends in both the Kargil battle as well as the more recent Balakot strikes. We know so less about these Brave hearts and their machines because not much was said about these mighty jets then.
Today, when the Indian media is trying to educate the less-informed common citizens about the ‘Squall’, some twitterati have call this fanfare around the jets as “juvenile”, “band,baaja baraat”, “jingoism” of the NaMo gang and what not. One even went on to sarcastically compare it with the very historic flight of the Wright Brothers and tweeted: “Biggest event in aviation since Wright Brothers invented the aeroplane was when Right Brothers in India bought 5 Rafale jets”
What a lucky coincidence it is that the word “rafale” in French means ‘gust of wind’, ‘burst of fire’ and ‘squall’ which means a localised storm! Storms have had a symbolic meaning in the Indo-French relationship but the recent one must be the most unexpected by both. Experts say the much hyped media coverage is government aided, the business minded say it is “Dassault-aided and some others say it is’media-created’.The news channels have found a connection between the Border conflicts and this recent acquisition.
Technology is easily available to all of us these days. With the Covid Lockdown, young minds spend a lot of time on digital platforms. Information is handy and it is easier to comprehend as many veterans are also equally vocal about their experiences. With the blogging and micro-blogging platforms like Twitter, veterans feel comfortable sharing their expertise in a few words. It is not that one has to sit and write biographies to reach out to the common people. This makes it easier for everyone who is interested in knowing further about the subject. One thing is very clear that classified information is not leaked out while showing the might of the aircraft. All that the news channels are doing is some simplistic descriptions and comparisons of the aircraft and its capabilities.
Whether it is a politically motivated gimmick to divert attention from the non-performance of the government or a company’s effort to advertise its calibre in the aviation market, it is irrelevant for me. What pinches me as an IAF veteran is the double-standards of the Indian tax-payer. While the media hypes the depression and death of a movie star, very few want to stop the mudslinging and public display of vexed emotions of the Film Industry. Is the Indian citizen more concerned about the reel hero than the real pilot behind these machines? If the distraught family of one “star” moves us to tears, does it not give us some respite that the families of the real “Brave hearts” feel elated at the thought of their sons being given some capable aircraft instead of the earlier “coffins”? Indian Air Force has seen some easily avoidable mishaps in the past few decades when capable young boys were turned into ashes due to the technical faults in some old flying machines.
It is not that this fleet of five fighters and one trainer Rafale will solely overcome the deficit IAF has. There are many other operational and infrastructural details that need to be worked out. There might be doubts in the minds of tax-payers regarding the acquisition of Rafale but there should not be any squall over its capabilities. It is a sophisticated twin-jet fighter aircraft with abilities to carry out all kinds of combat aviation missions such as in-depth strikes, anti-ship strikes and air defense, close air support and nuclear deterrence. The pilots, the military leadership and the families, in general are going to feel mightier once they know that these machines protect them, enable them. So a little fanfare is acceptable.
As for the reporters, I only wish that they do not see this acquisition in light of some coincidental threats at LAC. The fleet enhancement is a continuous process and it will keep happening. Finding opportune meanings to it would only raise doubts towards their credibility in reporting matters of national interest. Once again in the words of the War reporter Barkha Dutt, “Our only choice as journalists is to be emotionally honest; to have the courage to give voice to more than one truth.” and