Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Rang De Basanti - Colour my shirt saffron.........

During India's independence struggle from the British, the Indian revolutionaries belonged to two distinct camps. There are many controversies among historians regarding the philosophies and the goals of these two groups. What is non-controversial though is their core beliefs. One camp believed in Mahatma Gandhi's non-violent quest for truth and freedom, thinking that the basic fundamentals of liberty and democracy were true anywhere. The other camp on the other hand believed in an armed struggle against the empire, noting that western especially British history was riddled with violence, and that was the only language the enemy understood.

A pan-Indian group belonging to the second camp was called the Hindustan Republican Association. One of the most famous act of this group was the Kakori conspiracy, where in the revolutionaries looted the British treasury's money bags from a train near Kakori station (in modern U.P, on the New Delhi-Moradabad-Lucknow rail line). The idea of the robbery was hatched primarily by two revolutionaries, Mr. Ram Prasad Bismil and Mr. Asfaqullah Khan. Despite their obvious differences (one was devout Arya Samaji Hindu, the other a Muslim who could quote the Quran!), the two were the best of friends who believed that "their motherland" could only be liberated by armed revolution!

Mr. Bismil and Mr. Khan were eventually both hanged on the same date in different jails for their roles in the case.

Apart from being a revolutionary Mr. Bismil was a poet as well. He once wrote a song, Rang de basanti chola, that is still played across the length and breadth of India on Independence and Republic day holidays. The song calls for Mr. Bismil's mother to colour his shirt "Basanti". The colour Basanti, depending on the context, refers to the yellow colour of mustard blooms that flower all over northern India's agricultural fields come spring, OR it refers to "kesariya" (saffron), the Indian colour of sacrifice and valour. It is for this reason the top most stripe on modern independent India’s tricolour.

For the song both meanings are valid. Bismil would ask for saffron, because he wants to sacrifice everything for his beloved nation. He would also ask for the mustard yellow because it denotes the coming prosperity.

In the year 2001, 54 years after India’s hard won freedom, a young pilot, Flt. Lt. Abhijit Gadgil was leading a two plane sortie in a mock fight in the western Indian state of Rajasthan. A technical failure lead to what the IAF later described as "pilot disorientation", and his Mig-21 crashed within a minute of take off. Initially the IAF attributed the error to "pilot error" and the fact that the pilot "lacked sufficient flying skills".

Why a pilot lacking sufficient flying skills was leading another in mock combat, while being on "watch" duty after the traumatic incidents of 9/11, is a question the IAF never answered. The brave pilot's parents especially his mother were however not ready to accept the IAF's initial version of what took place and kept pressing for the "facts" to be released. The IAF retracted, via a letter from the Air Chief Marshal of India, and did finally acknowledge that the "Court of Inquiry had brought out the most probable cause (and not the conclusively established cause) of the accident was spatial disorientation at night, which may have been triggered by a trim malfunction (technical)." The letter went on to state that "accidents such as this do take place and at times may be beyond the control of any human being."

It is interesting to note that the "black box" of the airplane was not working at the time of the crash. In absence of the flight data recorder, a vital component of the "black box", the IAF COULD NOT have arrived at a conclusively established cause.

Readers should also note that most modern fighters are equipped with electronically displayed "artificial horizons”, terrain proximity warning systems, and other systems that might aid in preventing "spatial disorientation".

Mrs. Gadgil's efforts eventually did lead to her meeting with the President and Defence Minister of India and the retraction from the IAF.

Flt. Lt. Gadgil's tragic story eventually led to the production of a successful "Bollywood" movie called "Rang De Basanti". Although this movie was a box office success, it is interesting to note that it had to be "cleared" by the Indian air force, and does not contain any reference to the pilot or his parents! It also advocates violence in a way that Mrs. Gadgil does not condone herself!

In a very simplistic way, the movie typical of its escapist message, lays the blame on one individual and advocates eliminating that one individual. The fact that the movie did this is in itself not surprising. The Indian film industry banks on such plots (and then wonders why the international world of serious cinema does not take them "seriously"). Without any apologies whatsoever to the filmmakers and actors that profited from this movie, sensationalizing serious issues likes Flt. Lt. Gadgil's death amounts to trivializing them. It does not help their cause.

I suspect, Mr. Bismil and his friend Mr. Khan will not be very pleased with this commercial exploitation of the issue. Especially because it gives the audience a "false closure" by eliminating the bad guy.

We do not yet know what caused Swapnil’s plane to crash. We have heard that his parachute did not deploy.

WE (I, and YOU the reader) need to demand that the IAF publish the results of the CoI. We need to demand that the results of his autopsy be publicly released. And then take it from there……national issues need to be debated nationally. If our brave pilots need a better plane than the venerable but outdated “Vikram” (Mig-21) then so be it. At least the “Gun”(people) should know what is going on in the defence of the “Guntantra” (rule of the people-Hindi for Republic).


1 comment:

parallel_universe said...

i am totally sick of this. the IAF has to stop carrying out its stupid investigations after each crash (their media response to every crash). Why does the IAF have the highest aircraft crash rate in the world. If its the pilots, train them better. But why is it he MIG 21 keeps crashing. They need jet trainers for the pilots to gain experience with. Secondly, the mig is a flying coffin. Instead of blaming the pilots and carrying out stupd investigations why does the government and IAF DO SOMETHING, retire this old death machine. Our pilots put their lives on the line and are ready to fight for their country and die for it - but not like this. This is not right. Its our government and IAF thats killing our young pilots, not enemy missiles! It almost feels like murder. IM SICK OF THIS. This is one of the reasons im too scared to join the IAF. Because i know new pilots are likely to fly the Mig-21 as their first jet. If theyre lucky enough to survive then they can fly the safer jets.