Mumbai, Aug. 2: A faint glimmer of hope has emerged from Rashtrapati Bhavan and reached the families that have lost one of their own in MiG crashes and are fighting for the aircraft to be withdrawn from service. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam has agreed to meet the aggrieved relatives on Tuesday.
The irony has not been lost on anyone as the President’s nod comes a day after George Fernandes had a 25-minute ride in a MiG at the Ambala air base.
Confirming the much sought-after appointment, Kavita Gadgil, founder-member of the Abhijit Air Safety Foundation, said: “MiG families are relieved and hope that the supreme commander of India’s armed forces will do something to stop further MiG flights. We have a lot to tell the President.’’
Asked if the defence minister’s MiG flight — in response to a challenge from National Conference leader Omar Abdullah — proved anything, Kavita said: “We had asked the President to stop this circus. What does one half-an-hour flight in a well prepared MiG prove' Nothing. We are disgusted.’’
Disgust and anger seemed to be the reaction of all those who have lost family members during the spate of recent MiG crashes. From Nainital to Delhi, Pune to Barmer, criticism was scathing and cynicism simmering.
Farah Khan, wife of squadron leader T.J.A. Khan, who went missing in a MiG, along with flight officer Deepak Dahia, somewhere in Sonitpur on April 20 last year, said from Nainital: “You want to know what his (Fernandes’) flight has proved' Absolutely zilch. My husband hasn’t been found yet and I have been asked to give up hope. The MiG is a dangerous aircraft. Period… I feel like jumping into a lake but I have my seven-year-old twins to feed.’’
Farah, 32, whose husband has been awarded the Vishisht Seva Medal, will meet Kalam separately when she goes to Delhi on October 8 to receive the award. The government announced Khan’s medal on Republic Day this year.
In Delhi, Dharam Kaur, Dahia’s mother, said: “We would like to meet the President and express to him our grief and trauma...’’
Dahia’s sister, Usha, had earlier this year sprawled before Fernandes’ car when he said he didn’t have time to meet her. After Usha succeeded in getting the minister to step out, he assured her he would look into the matter and that “everything will be okay’’. But nothing happened.
J.S. Jamwal, father of Flight Lieutenant S.C. Shukla, a Kargil hero who died in a MiG crash on August 5, 2000, was more critical of Fernandes. “I don’t know what he wanted to show the world,’’ he said. “Even I would take a fancy ride in a MiG that was handled by one of the most experienced officers in the air force…. In the last 35 months, 30 MiGs have been involved in accidents and 17 young pilots have died. My son was one of them.’’
Kavita, whose son Flight Lieutenant Abhijit died on September 17, 2001, refused to divulge any more about Tuesday’s meeting.
She said: “In my letter to Fernandes, I told him he was doing something wrong, but he wanted to prove his point and show who is in charge.’’ Kavita added that all the bereaved families want is that MiGs be withdrawn and repairs undertaken.