Where is the missing An-32 Plane? Why the BJP is silent on the issue?

Archive Articles, Editorial, Opinion

(This article was first published in August 2016 in the previous version of People’s Review. Due to an incident of hacking the old website was pulled down and we could only restore the old articles in this section)

We are all set to hear from the Prime Minister and his team of sycophants the usual cacophony on the sacrifices an average soldier does for the sake of the country, the nation must not forget its soldiers, and similar other text book quotations on the occasion of the Independence Day of India. Though the occasion is the celebration of British government granting dominion status to India within its empire on 15th August 1947, and despite the fact that the armed forces of India were built by the British colonial rulers to serve their own interests of colonising people and the forces along with their operating manuals and procedures were handed down to the Indian and Pakistani regimes without any change, which caused massive human rights violation and repressed people of different nationalities for nearly seven decades of the so-called and excessively hyped freedom, there is a lack of apathy and a conspicuous silence on part of the ruling bloc represented by the overtly pro-military RSS-BJP when it comes to a missing Indian Airforce plane – An 32, which was flying from the Tambaram Air Force Station in Chennai to Andaman and Nicobar Islands on 22 July 2016 and went off the radar forever after flying 280 kilometres east. The plane was lost in the Bay of Bengal and the government, which does jingoistic chest thumping along with its paid agents and supportive media whenever someone does a justified criticism of the armed forces, did actually nothing to trace the missing flight, which had 29 people on board including six crew members, eight defence civilians working for Naval Armament Depot, two Indian Army soldiers, one Indian Navy personnel, one Indian Coast Guard personnel and 11 Indian Air Force personnel. More than three weeks gone and still the government headed by a military eulogising hardline Hindutva fascist outfit, commanding the third largest armed force in the world with access to world-class technology, is elusive about the status of the flight and the passengers. No where the corporate media and its high pitch bullying anchors are seen, who would otherwise rip apart civil rights and political activists if they dare to criticise the atrocities committed by the armed forces and call the activists or even fellow journalists – Pakistani agents. Such journalists are maintaining a conspicuous silence just like the entire Modi government.

The plane went off the radar at 9:12 am on 22 July, and by the late afternoon around 4:00 pm the government started a search and rescue operation involving the IAF, Coast Guards, and Indian Navy. The operation went on for three days and involved submarines scanning for underwater signal in the entire stretch of the suspected crash site. The government pulled in the National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) also into the search and rescue operation. The satellite images provided by ISRO were used to find the plane that plunged 23,000 feets before going off the radar. The Weather Department informed that there was no cyclone or any such adverse weather conditions prevailing in the region when the plane went missing. An-32, according to aircraft experts, is an upgraded version of the Soviet Union made An-26 military aircrafts that can fly in all weather conditions for four hours without any refuelling.  The experts are considering that the crash could have been due to malfunctioning parts, which is very common with the Russian planes like An-32. The IAF officials however claimed that the plane was properly functioning as it was upgraded from Ukraine recently. The An-32 aircrafts of the Indian Air Force forms the core of the transport fleet and there had been several instances of crashes and missing aircrafts in the past, which makes the twin engine aircraft one degree less haunted than the obsolete single-engined MiG 21 jets.

More than 30 years ago, on 25 March 1986, an An-32 aircraft just disappeared over the Indian Ocean when it was returning from Soviet Union via Oman; the flight and seven people on-board were never found despite a massive search operation. Due to India’s status then as a satellite state of the Soviet Union, the government of Rajiv Gandhi remained mute and covered up the disappearance. The news was never followed up in the mainstream media except for few occasional obituaries to the missing (dead) personnel who were on-board.

Four years after this incident, on 15 July 1990, another An-32 transport plane of the IAF, while flying to Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala from the same Tambaram Air Force station, crashed in the Ponmudi Mountain range, 55 km north-east of Trivandrum city.

IAF An-32 plane ferrying 21 people, including 18 military personnel, crashed near Indira Gandhi International Airport on 7 March 1999. All 21 people died in the incident when the BJP was ruling the country with Atal Bihari Vajpayee at its helm.

One more An-32 aircraft carrying 13 people crashed shortly after it took of from Mechukha in Arunachal Pradesh on 10 June 2009, ten years after the crash in Delhi. The 13 people on-board were killed and to save its skin the defence ministry signed a $400 million deal with Ukraine to upgrade the entire fleet of An-32 aircrafts. The upgrade was suppose to increase the lifespan of the Russian antique aircraft to another 15 years. However, the recent crash of the aircraft clearly shows that the plane could not overcome the earlier shortcomings, which claimed several lives of service personnel in the Indian Air Force and other armed forces in the previous occassions.

Traditionally the BJP and its parental organisation – RSS were hardcore supporters of the US led Western Camp during the Cold War years, which made them hostile to the pro-Soviet Congress regime. The now defunct Bharatiya Jana Sangh and its reincarnated form – BJP was critical of Russian hardware imports and always advocated for military hardware import and tie-ups with the US led Western Bloc. Upon coming to power in the late 1990s, the government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee increased the military talks with US and created the platform on which the Indo-US military deal was concluded. The Vajpayee regime and its hawks opened up Indian defence sector to the Western camp led by the US and Israel to meet its political compulsions. Since the An-32 was a Russian made plane, the crash of the plane could provide a good political fodder to the ailing BJP, which is under attack from different corners due to the total failure of the Modi regime in fulfilling its poll promises. The BJP could have raked up the issue of malfunctioning Russian aircrafts and blamed Indira and Rajiv Gandhi for the mess and saved its own skin. This is the commonly followed strategy of the BJP under Modi, to blame the Congress and its leaders of yester years as the source of all failures of the Modi regime in the 21st century. The complete silence of the Modi regime on the status of the plane and a gradual withdrawal of the search and rescue operation since late July raised suspicion and when the media stopped reporting on the status of the missing plane, the suspicion increased manifold.

When a far-right organisation like BJP, which survives on jingoism and military worship, suddenly swept a crucial issue like the  disappearance of a military aircraft  under the carpet. As the silence reigns it seems that the self-styled patriotic saffron brigade and its high-pitch newsroom supporters are up to hiding a big failure and cover it up with rhetoric mongering. It’s time for those who always talk about misuse of tax-payers money to ask the government why it has failed in recovering the debris of a crashed military transport plane even after three weeks despite making tall claims about military power and technological advancements.

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