Pulwama & Beyond: Don’t Mix Blood & Votes

If everyone is done with the chest thumping, sloganeering and points-scoring over recent military actions, I have some sobering thoughts for you.

2019 has gotten off to a terrible start for Indian forces. Though the IAF redeemed itself through some spectacular air strikes, our losses cannot be shrugged away lightly.

It started with the 14th Jan 2019 fatal crash (read here) of a Mirage 2000 during an acceptance test flight at Bengaluru’s old HAL Airport. An impromptu wave of anti-HAL/PSU/DRDO sentiment rose into the air along with acrid smoke from burning debris of Sam & Sid’s fighter jet. Both test crew died. Overnight, HAL became ‘enemy’ for many Indians.

Then Valentine’s Day turned into one big blast in Pulwama. 40 CRPF personnel were blown to bits by a suicide bomber, plunging a nation into deep sorrow with angry cries for retribution. A tripwire, long ignored by a nation that preaches peace in a volatile neighbourhood, was breached. Now Pakistan became ‘Enemy No. 1’.

The irony that 3 kgs of beef stored in a poor man’s house attracts mobs & lynchings while 350 kgs of high explosives slipped past our security and intelligence networks got lost somewhere in the din. A blue polythene screen covered the sombre remnants of what was an official vehicle conveying security personnel to their duty / home stations.

By the time embers of the Mirage crash and Pulwama cooled, another fireball from midair collision of two Hawk AJTs from Surya Kiran Aerobatics Team (SKAT) rose high into the skies over Yelahanka. Wg Cdr Sahil Gandhi soared into blue skies forever on 19th Feb 2019, doing what he loved most.

Hawk AJTs from SKAT formation during Aero India 2017. The 2019 show claimed one life from SKAT (pic by Navtej Singh)

That tragedy was soon overtaken by the glitz of Aero India 2019 which opened next day. I put out a gentle reminder: must the show must go on unchecked? Yes, said most. Some called me out for asking that question.

Aero India 2019 ran with great fanfare for next five days. A nation tuned into television, Facebook & Twitter drooled over majestic Rafales, Su-30MKIs and F-16s, little realising that the real thing would soon play out over the skies up north.

The MiG 21s would never be on parade in an airshow like Aero India. They are ancient relics in an airshow where arms dealers strut their stuff, eyeing millions of dollars in orders. Hordes of ministers, bureaucrats and officials trooped down to Bengaluru on opening day, logged their presence, made lofty statements, and returned to Delhi like ‘baraatis‘ after a family wedding.

An IAF Mig-21 touches the sky with glory. Pic by Angad Singh, @zone5aviation

Perhaps as nature’s grim reminder of all that could go wrong if we continue our chalta hai attitude & ignore potential tinder boxes, a flash fire swept through the Aero India parking lot, gutting over 200 vehicles. We dismissed it as ‘minor’; even complementing authorities for their alacrity in response. Across the national highway, Aero India continued unhindered.

Then IAF’s historic air strikes on JeM camps in Balakot, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa happened on 26th Feb 19. Sam, Sid, Sahil and their families soon lost national attention to notional gains.

Then Abhinandan happened. A national hero emerged from the unlikely stable of old Mig 21 Bisons that till recently were slandered as ‘widow makers’ & ‘flying coffins’. An F-16D from PAF was shot down by our Bison even as Abhinandan went down in a tight air to air combat.

Wg Cdr Abhinandan Varthaman with late Wg Cdr Sahil Gandhi (RiP) to his right in happier times. A poignant photo. (scanned from Times of India)

An IHQ MoD full of indifferent babus with band-aid fixes for our military won’t sign for any expensive ‘toys for the boys’ unless they have a choice. Abhinandan’s ‘half-million’ maps and ‘survival pamphlets’ are there for everyone to see.

The very next day (27th Feb 19), as an aerial skirmish between IAF & PAF unfolded in the skies over Kashmir, an IAF Mi-17V5 crashed under mysterious circumstances near Budgam in J&K, killing all six crew members onboard. For a nation spoon-fed by media and Twitter handles, this tragedy got but a mention-in-passing, soon disappearing into the vast ’emptiness’ of cyberspace.

Mi-17V5 Budgam Crash 27th Feb 19: The unsung heroes

Don’t forget their sacrifice, people. Six families were destroyed. We don’t even know how or why yet.

Wd Cdr Abhinandan’s pictures and videos circled the world a million times while we are still speculating if a certain PAF officer called Shahaz Ud Din ever flew that day. Have you seen any evidence or dossiers from the other side? Claims, counter-claims and propaganda fly thick and fast while official accounts from our side surface after interminable delays. That should tell you something about our processes and what kind of adversary we are up against.

Are we turning into a nation full of rabble rousers, Twitter handles and propagandists? Can this turn the tide of war? Or are real heroes needed? And are they created overnight like social media would have us believe?

You, dear citizens, have to answer that. There’s a price of war. There’s a cost for peace. Are you prepared to foot the bill?

We are a nation with amazing grace & patriotism during times of crisis and a convenient, volatile memory during extended periods of peace. That must change. How soon we forget Mumbai police who fought the 26/11 attackers with batons and .303s. Top cops of Mumbai Police, including chief of the elite anti-terrorist squad Hemant Karkare, additional commissioner Ashok Kamte, and Inspector Vijay Salaskar fell to bullets from terrorists’ AK-47s, wearing ill-fitting, third-grade bullet proof vests. It took 167 lives in 2008 for us to realize that we need better equipment? And how well is the average policeman on the street kitted up now in 2019?

When Sam & Sid’s Mirage went down inside Bengaluru’s old airport, horrific videos of burning, mortally wounded test pilots surrounded by clueless onlookers and curious first responders filled our phones. Equally tragic videos of the SKAT crash went viral while even a basic ‘Police Line. Do Not Cross’ cordon to keep away trigger-happy public from a crashed aircraft was missing. Netizens and Twiteratti gushed over a ‘hand-in-glove’ photo without asking the real questions – how did this happen? Why did this happen? And what should have been our response to such accidents other than taking epic photos? Do our fallen heroes deserve to be paraded like this on social media?

Look beyond the photos and grasp the real issues our soldiers face (viral pic, source unknown)

I was mortified and heartbroken to see videos of the burning Mi-17V5 that crashed at Budgam with hundreds of onlookers staring insensitively like it was some bonfire. Don’t forget, there were six souls in there. Bengaluru to Budgam, we haven’t come a long way, isn’t it? Our emergency response and collective insensitivity to such accidents would be beyond comprehension in a more civilised society.

Fighter planes, air combat, propaganda and viral videos again overtook us. The other side now had a POW. A nation rooting for war just a day ago now prayed for Abhinandan’s safe return. Everything else seemed to have become insignificant.

Recall how we caved-in after the IC 814 hijacking in 1999 where families of hostages shouted slogans outside PM Atal Behari Vajpayee’s residence in Delhi. One evening, widow of Sqn Ldr Ajay Ahuja and father of late Lt Vijayant Thapar (both Kargil martyrs) pleaded with them to put national interest over personal. As former aide to PM Vajpayee and writer Kanchan Gupta writes in his chilling account, someone from the crowd heckled Ahuja’s widow “she has become a widow, now she wants others to become widows. Yeh kahan se aayi?”. Result? We capitulated and brought back the passengers by new year’s eve, trading Maulana Masood Azhar and two other terrorists who went on to raise the JeM.

Abhinandan is a war hero, there’s no denying that. And this is not about who is better or worse or who is alive or dead. But for a moment, stop and spare a thought about what we have become. A nation full of social media warriors led by pied pipers from the media and political parties who have no appetite for the long haul? And what chance do we have of winning future wars with this outlook?

But win we will. At a terrible cost. Expect body bags galore. What’s worse, we’ll gloat endlessly about how we achieved the impossible. It’ll be Kargil again after 20 years.

When Abhinandan was in enemy territory, you rooted for him. How about rooting for millions of Abhinandans, many of whom never returned home and those who fight with outdated equipment? How about putting your money where your mouth is? You want to pound Pakistan? How many of you asked why the Abhinandans of today have to prostrate themselves in front of an recalcitrant bureaucracy each time to get even basic survival gear? Instead, even educated folks choose to glorify the antiquated Mig-21 Bisons as ‘Falcon Slayer’ and gloss over the substratal lessons.

A ‘Falcon Slayer’ patch that surfaced in the celebrations after 27th Feb 19 aerial combat of an IAF Mig 21 Bison & PAF F16 (source unknown)

Political opportunists and keyboard warriors, please wake up and stop twirling your fake moustaches like Amol Palekar in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Golmaal (1979). You never bothered when decades of decadence blunted our military edge. You never bothered for two decades after our soldiers fought an impossible war in Kargil, dislodging Pakistani regulars occupying commanding positions with well-equipped, well-entrenched bunkers without acclimatisation and ECC (extreme climate clothing).

A Union Minister from the ruling dispensation recently even questioned “what is the navy doing in Colaba? They should be on the borders”. Now your cronies are putting up these posters in the same corner of Mumbai? This is how low we have stooped.

A recent, distasteful example of using war heroes for political mileage (from the internet)

It just proves one point I have belaboured endlessly in many of my writings. Our nation survives on heroics, fights with what we have (which is very little), and when our soldiers achieve the impossible, we pat ourselves on the back and return to deep slumber. Sudden, episodic waves of patriotism ripples through oceans of indifference. After all is said & done, more is said than done.

The collective brunt of all this ignominy is borne by the soldier, sailor & air warrior on the frontline. They deliver the impossible, even as IFAs and babus checkmate them over financial minutiae and pour scorn on them during peacetime.

I am fed up with the jingoism and chest-thumping of petty politicians, party spokespersons, frothing generals and self-styled defence experts who partook in this sodomy of our military preparedness.

When a media brief did come, three serving senior armed forces officers read out from a script no doubt vetted by many MoD bureaucrats, none of whom were around to take questions. That, in sum, is what it’s all about today.

If you don’t have the appetite for war, don’t pick up the guns. Get the processes in order. Build consensus on what kind of capabilities our armed forces truly require. Then get them that capability without making your ‘10%’ or dancing over their graves. If you cannot do that, keep away from policy making or at least shut the hell up.

And yes, definitely keep our armed forces out of your political campaigns. Maintain the dignity of our soldiers. You ain’t getting my vote otherwise.

(An edited version of this article first appeared on The Quint. You can read it here. Feel free to share.)


©KP Sanjeev Kumar, 2019. All rights reserved. I can be reached at realkaypius@gmail.com. Views are personal.

Mig-21 photo courtesy Angad Singh, @zone5aviation via Twitter. Cover photo of SKAT by my colleague Navtej Singh, Aero India 2017 via his Instagram account (here).


20 thoughts on “Pulwama & Beyond: Don’t Mix Blood & Votes

  1. As usual your insightful writing is a treat for our minds….KPS. Some very apt issues raised herein. If only our nation’s powers-that-be read and do some constructive make-over… Well written buddy.

  2. Absolutely blunt, straight forward and hard hitting reality !! Hope this
    (a) needles the conscience of those who wield the pen to make a difference rather than use their pens to make life more miserable by framing more rules and procedures to delay procurement !!
    (b) makes our “finger”-happy social media tigers realise how hollow their “patriotism” sounds once the smoke from the barrel disappears !
    Looking forward to more such articles to get everyone to wake up to reality !!

  3. Bang on KPS. Hope the political masters and the Administrators understand the seriousness. We are sadly a nation who doesn’t value human life. Some Political mileage in election season can be understood but where is the long term induction and upgradation programme. Also our media has disappointed us in the crisis situations. Need some serious pondering.

  4. Higher defence management in India needs to be revamped. The three service HQs are attached offices OUTSIDE the MoD. After Kargil the K Subramanyam committee had recommended full integration of Service HQs with MoD. The babus scuttled it and formed the IHQ which is ANOTHER attached office. In Whitehall Her Majesty’s forces are part of the Ministry. Uniformed officers and civilian bureaucracy mingle freely as equals. JS(Air) could be an IAF AVM if it happens here. Our militarily illitrerate politicians are fed stories of a military coup by the babus. Eh faujion ku thoda dhoor rakhiye. And the mess continues ad nauseum. The Rules of Business of the GoI states the person responsible for national security is the Defense Secretary, a babu. The Chairman CoSC is not mentioned. Does anyone remember who the Def Sec was in 1962, 1965, 1971, 1999 ? Faceless guys who have authority but no responsibility.
    That is the job of the uniformed services isn’t it ?

    1. I cannot add anything more to that, Sir. We have all seen how the cookie crumbled while we were blinded with promotions and ambition. Now, why are we even surprised?
      Thank you, your comments are always apt and thought-provoking. Let’s all beware of the pier pipers of Dilli

  5. Sir,

    Keeping armed forces out of political campaigns was a welcome norm till very recent times, however in absence of regulations it would remain at the discretion of opportunists. But jingoism and chest-thumping is a natural course related to high adrenalin ‘events’ like armed forces actions or cricket, and now, even olympics. I guess these occassions can’t be progressing otherwise.

    However, I wish to delink the aspect of procurement in armed forces with “jingoism and chest-thumping”.

    While drafting one of the procurement related documents, it was thought provoking to read a question “How was the purpose being achieved in the past ?”. (If I had to buy a car for myself would I drift to ponder, as to how was I managing without it in the past? :))

    I won’t take this as a benign statement. It was a reflection of how the process moved up the chain. We know that infructuos, irrelevant inputs, repeated interactions bulks up the file and procrastinates the process especially in ‘unwilling’ category of procurements for obvious but tabooed reasons. Worse, a fallen case doesn’t find someone accountable. Interestingly, it’s analogous to regular audit process in accounts department, wherein rejected claims are untouched, but multiple scrutinies of successful agendas are undertaken. I opine, this is one of the open loop where process ‘leaks’.

    Please consider this, …If a lapse of AoN (Acceptance of Necessity) validity automatically invokes non operational status, unit/ship/squadron commanders won’t have to put up forced show windows….. and hopefully would close the open loop too :).

    Above may please be considered as example not open for debate. The intent was to suggest embedding ownership in procurment processes of equipment for our men/women in uniform.


  6. As disappointing and negative it may sound, some things will never change in our country. Celebrities will always be worshipped more than the soldiers, politics will be played over them and they will stand ignored and yet perform beyond their call of duty every time, because I presume that is what they were taught in their academies.

  7. Let’s look at it objectively at 26 and 27 Feb. India strike at night ,enter Pak space 3/4 miles, delivered stand off bombs, flown back seeing PAF interceptors. Few trees and a crow dead. The claims of 350+ killed, proven pie in the sky internationally.
    PAF strike in broad day light. According to your own acceptance, military targets were attacked. Pak channels were on the scene next day at Balakot shown the area. We have not seen any pictures or video coverage from the sites attacked by PAF. Why!! What India is hiding !! Why Indians don’t ask pictures and videos from their own government!
    India a supapowa should have strike back, why it didn’t!!! Why we didn’t see much activities of Su30s after 27 near the borders!! Why it compelled Modi to talk about Rafale and that it would have changed the equation.
    What equation it would have changed. According to Indian narratives 1 Bisson against an F 16 a bad equation!! F 16 kill claim also proven to be an international humiliation for India.
    So what deterred IAF to launch massive strikes considering it showcases Su 30s as air superiority jet.
    Why India tried to launch missiles strikes rather than over powering air strikes. We see countless Indian channels old videos, how IAF can decimate Pakistan. Even missiles strikes were called off, knowing that Pakistan would retaliate with bigger numbers.
    You and I both know, PAF rack havoc on 27th Feb 2019. Tell the truth to your nation.

    1. Modi has been reelected PM for a second term. If Pakistan continues down the beaten path again, you will have your answers soon. Take care, my friend.

      1. Don’t you worry, we know. We are ready. We are not Indians that do not ask questions or do not discuss what happened. The day the truth comes out Indians would know what happened to their IAF and ground forces on 27th Feb.

        Two faced Indians were demanding from Pakistan to show the Balakot site, even though many media persons had been there next day and even interviewed the locals.
        The same Indians never demanded from their own authorities to show what happened to the 6 targets PAF identified and bombed including the Brigade HQ where Bipin was having a meeting with his top aids. Bipin could have been history if PAF decided to attack the buildings directly. No wonder Bipin has not said a word from that day.

        Indians next day moved their Su 30s away from the border area to protect them. You don’t do it to your prize, strike, air superiority assets. You use them to gain air superiority.

        You know very well PAF had full command of the skies that day in Indian air space. They could have caused you any damage they wanted.

        That to in broad day light. So tell me which was the “surgical strike”.
        Intruding few miles in the dark destroying few trees or attacking military installations in the broad day light!!!

        1. I will just let your comment sit here and age gracefully. History will judge us by our actions, not empty rhetoric. Happy hallucinating

          1. Who is hallucinating!! Any count of your inventory of SU 30s and 2000 after 27th!!
            Any pictures of the 6 sites attacked!!
            Talk about hallucinations and boosting.
            We know, now that your masters have found the weaknesses in your armor they would try to fill those gaps to get you ready for another go. The efforts already started. Therefore, you are stupid to think we are hallucinating. Why you think PAF decided to fire their missiles in the open spaces rather than toasting Bipin!!
            We know what India is capable of doing like Bangladesh, by training and financing “Mukti Bahni” and supporting Mujeeb. We know how it is done. And what Indians are doing through their terror camps inside Afghanistan.
            No you are mistaken, we know how you have done it in the past, what you are doing now, and what you are capable of doing in the future.
            No hallucinations at all. It is the Indians which are feed lies. There are hundreds of videos produced by Indian channels to show how they can destroy Pakistan. You should be rest assured any eventuality India would suffer more this time. Make no mistakes.
            On 27th you know very well your prize assets Su30 were running away try to evade the SAMs fired by PAF. Are you denying that IAF has awarded a pilot for successfully evading Aim-120!! Only cowards award gallantry for running away from the battlefields.

  8. Here read first acknowledgement that your top brass were at Brigade HQ on 27th.


    You know why we don’t trust you IA fan boys!! You are pathetic, you lie all the time.
    This idiot SNEHESH ALEX PHILIP has attributed a statement to DG ISPR on 29th Feb.
    The idiot completely forgot that 2019 is not a leap year. There was no 29th Feb this year. Man o Man Indians take the biscuit.

  9. The truth started to reveal gradually after the elections are over.
    BS Dhanoa’s admissions about PAF capabilities. Indians keep crying and mentioning “Rafale” the game changer. Don’t worry Mr Dhanoa, Pakistan’s JF 17 III are getting ready to tackle your recent procurement. By the way what happened to Su 30s air superiority fighters!! They lost their capabilities!!


    Air Chief Marshal, BS Dhanoa: In 2002 when operation Parakram happened they (Pakistan) didn’t have the capability, after that they upgraded their technology but Rafale comes and changes the balance back to us.

    8:58 AM – May 27, 2019

  10. Next cache of truth revealed by the Indians. As I said a lot would be revealed in coming days after the elections are over. Indians had been fooled by the liars in its government and its media.

    “Fully defensive and desperate to escape the incoming AMRAAMs, the IAF Sukhoi-30s escaped being shot down but were unable to retaliate the F-16s because they were out of position and their own missiles, the Russian R-77s, did not have the range to realistically engage the Pakistani fighters.”


    Few days ago I wrote here what had happened to your SU 30s and how you are trying to award those who ran away from the battle field. Only Indians can deceive like this.

  11. India is at crossroads. Legacy issues are clashing with the new ways and the sociopolitical fault lines are exacerbating the vituperative nature of the discourse and providing to us optics of a rather insipid kind. And therefore while it may be fine to bemoan the nature of political discourse and the noisy debates on TV in particular, a more discerning look at the affairs and issues at hand is warranted to reckon which way the nation is going. The fact that India is a democracy where votes matter in the ultimate analysis – if you don’t get the votes then where is the chance to implement the vision you have for the nation; renders the cacophony laden exchanges between constituents, in the media (print or audio-visual) or in the political fray or even the motley bunch of military veterans that pass off as analysts, an experiential journey in annoyance. Cap this with the penchant for making money any which way that Indian’s seem to be crazy after, leading consequently to TV and businesses dishing out to you anything that can enhance their revenue – and here the jerky cricket matches in the midst of long ads passing off as sports telecast provide perhaps the the most sterling example of such perfidy. And if that is not enough, the fight is to the finish in terms of hypocrisy; and the more the degree and intensity of it, the more the public has rejected claims to positions in government at the hustings. And that provides us with a glimmer of hope! The more the opportunists in the political fray fail; and the frayed political edges are discarded, the more the polity and public discourse gets better. In all this therefore, I see better times in India in another ten years. We might not be able to fathom now the depth and measure of the changes in the anvil. Kudos!

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