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'To me, this is true patriotism'

February 14, 2018 13:36 IST

On Tuesday, February 13, 2018, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, the Rajya Sabha MP from Karnataka, presented a restored Dakota to the Indian Air Force.
'To me, this is true patriotism -- not deciding who should and should not say 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' in what language, with what inflexion, at what time, etc, but the recognition that the Indians who protected our country and the military traditions that made those men, must be honoured,' Chandrasekhar said in an interview two years ago.

When Aditi Phadnis spoke to Rajeev Chandrasekhar in 2016, the Rajya Sabha MP and businessman from Karnataka was in the process of buying and refurbishing a vintage Dakota aircraft that he planned to gift to the Indian Air Force.

On Tuesday, February 13, 2018, about two years after he gave this interview, Chandrasekhar and his father Air Commodore M K Chandrasekhar (retd) presented the Dakota to Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh 'Tony' Dhanoa and the Indian Air Force.

 

The Dakota as seen in its heyday, above, and the Dakota as it is today, below
IMAGE: The Dakota as seen in its heyday, above, and the Dakota as it is today, below.
The airplane's tail number is VP905, the same as the Dakota that landed with troops in Srinagar in 1947.
Rajeev Chandrasekhar has named the refurbished Dakota Parashurama, the warrior saint.
Photographs: Kind courtesy Rajeev Chandrasekhar, MP

People buy real estate and villas abroad. They buy distressed banks, distressed companies and plantations. You've bought a tin can. Why?

(Laughs.) It is not a tin can. It is a symbol of the pride of the Indian Air Force that my father, Air Commodore M K Chandrasekhar, flew early in his career.

The DC-3 Dakota was a transport aircraft used to move troops in 1947 to quell the attack on Kashmir and push back raiders. It is a symbol of India's unity because it was used in the Bangladesh war of 1971. The famous Tangail drop was done from this aircraft.

Few realise that the Indian Air force is one of the oldest air forces in the world. It has a hoary past, history and military traditions.

Because of my upbringing, I have always been deeply interested in military history and, as I am a trained pilot, I also know a little bit about aircraft.

To my utter horror, around 2010, I discovered that India's DC-3s, which were housed in the Sulur airport base just off Coimbatore, were sold as scrap.

The DC3 was the first transport aircraft that landed at the height of 11,500 feet in Leh by the then Wing Commander Mehar Singh, a legendary aviator.

To sell an aircraft like that to some kabadiwalla!

Anyway, I discovered there was one for sale in Ireland, but it needed to be restored.

I decided to buy and fix it. Then I wrote to the Indian government -- headed by Dr Manmohan Singh at the time -- to say that I wanted to gift this to the Indian Air Force.

Then defence minister A K Antony wrote back saying the air force had no 'policy' on gifts. So I kept it in the UK.

Air Commodore M K Chandrasekhar (retd) and Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa sign the gift deed as Air Marshal Shirish Baban Deo, the vice chief of the air staff, left, and Rajeev Chandrasekhar look on
IMAGE: Air Commodore M K Chandrasekhar (retd), right, and Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa sign the gift deed as Air Marshal Shirish Baban Deo, the vice chief of the air staff, left, and Rajeev Chandrasekhar look on.

You mean you actually got a letter saying 'thanks, but no thanks'?

Yes, well, to that effect.

The message I got was: Looking after this thing is going to be a big liability for us, so why don't you just drop it.

For me, flying the aircraft (it is now airworthy for 15 to 20 minute flights) reminded me of my father.

I was all of four years old, at the IAF airfield in Mohanbari, Assam, holding my mother's hand.

My father, all spit and polish in his uniform, looking super-handsome, got into the cockpit, then he slid the window down and gave me a little wave, started the engine and took off.

I did the same with my son.

In many ways, the UPA government's rejection of my proposal is emblematic of the way we treat the military, its history, traditions and sacrifices.

Britain still celebrates the sacrifices its soldiers made by the Battle of Britain memorial flights, which remind people of the costs that were paid for the country.

In our country, we wanted to sell the Vikrant as scrap....

I sensed in Manohar Parrikar a person who had a greater sense of history and respect for tradition, so I wrote to him renewing my offer. He accepted it.

To me, this is true patriotism -- not deciding who should and should not say 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai,' in what language, with what inflexion, at what time, etc, but the recognition that the Indians who protected our country and the military traditions that made those men, must be honoured.

India requires its political leadership to take an interest in its military history.

Aditi Phadnis
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