'Airlift' spreads misinformation

I saw the film Airlift on Thursday evening, but despite the entertaining narrative, the film left me slightly bewildered because the director says in the beginning that Ranjit Katyal [played by Akshay Kumar] is a fictional character but the movie is based on a real event. The problem is that the only two real events referred to in the film are the invasion of Iraq and the airlifting of Indians from Kuwait and Iraq.

What intrigued me is that Katyal, the protagonist, telephones a Joint Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, who introduces himself right in the beginning of the telephone call that he was not dealing with the Gulf issues and he would help Katyal speak to the relevant Joint Secretary. Yet, throughout the film, Katyal keeps on interacting with the same person. If Katyal was a quick-witted crisis-solver, then why was he not in touch with the correct Joint Secretary dealing with the Gulf-India ties?

Obviously, the director did it deliberately to portray the MEA in a poor light. I agree that, the director had the freedom to portray Katyal, but the diplomats in the MEA were not fictional characters. They were real people who did an incredible job. I think fictionalisation of characters of the MEA, and deny them the right of credit for their work, is unethical.

A lot of the viewers of the film were born after the incident in Kuwait. They need to be educated on their genuine inheritance and history from the First Gulf War. For example, the Ambassador of India in Kuwait, Kamal Bakshi, was portrayed in a very poor light. In reality, Ambassador Bakshi accommodated hundreds of Indians in the embassy and in several other available buildings. The film trivialises the issues. This appears like a deliberate attempt to spread misinformation.

In a sequence, the film shows Air India pilots also in a demeaning manner. The Air India did a great job during the war. Appears like the filmmaker deliberately dealt with Air India dismissively.

Excellent coordination

In fact, the evacuation was organised by a Cabinet Subcommittee which was chaired by then External Affairs Minister I.K. Gujral. There was excellent coordination among the Ministry of Civil Aviation, the Ministry of External Affairs and Air India. We were careful about the developments and we did not condemn Iraq as we had 1,76,000 Indians in Kuwait and Iraq and Kuwait was under Saddam Hussein. We were under American pressure, but we resisted them and avoided condemning the Iraqi action. Mr. Gujral met James Baker Jr, his American counterpart, and conveyed our point of view. In the middle of that crisis, a major issue erupted when during our trip to the region, I.K. Gujral “hugged” Saddam Hussein. The fact is that Gujral did not hug Saddam, instead it was Saddam who hugged Gujral. We were of course reaching out to all sides to get out our people from a very dangerous conflict zone.

We also activated the Non-aligned network involving Yugoslavia, Algeria and other friends of India. Americans were treating Saddam Hussein contemptuously and there was no chance of a compromise between the Americans and the Iraqis.

We organised the evacuation in as best a way as possible. We contacted the associations of various Indian communities in Kuwait so that every community could be represented even at the stage of evacuation. The film portrays Mr. Gujral as extremely reluctant. The director made the film without any idea of how the Ministry of External Affairs works.

During Mr. Gujral’s trip to Kuwait, he was informed by the Indian diplomats that he should not step out as there was a big crowd of 3,000 people. But Mr. Gujral got on the bonnet of the car and delivered a speech to the same agitated crowd and within four minutes the crowd started saying “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”. Young people who are watching this film are getting a wrong impression of their history.

(K.P. Fabian was Joint Secretary, Gulf division of the MEA, at the time of the First Gulf War during 1990-'91. He spoke to Kallol Bhattacherjee)

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 10:52:44 AM |

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