IAF Accidentally Shot Its Own Helicopter, Killed 7 in Budgam Crash
ON February 26, Indian fighter planes dropped bombs in Balakot, Pakistan, in retaliation for the Pulwama terrorist attack. The next day, Pakistan’s Air Force and Indian Air Force clashed, leading to two setbacks for India: the capture of Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman in Pakistan, and the death of six IAF personnel (and a civilian) when an IAF helicopter was shot down in Budgam in J&K.
Two months after the Budgam crash, well after the last votes were cast in India’s Parliamentary polls, IAF sources have confirmed what some defence analysts had already indicated: that the IAF helicopter was accidentally shot down by an IAF missile. Why were the findings into the Budgam crash probe suppressed till after polling? Defence analyst Ajai Shukla had said, in an opinion piece on 27 April 2019, that “IAF officers say they are keen to serve justice quickly and make an example of those found guilty of operational lapses. However, they are held back by a “go-slow” order from above. They say the reason is: With the Balakot bombing and the Pakistani response, including the alleged shooting down of a Pakistani F-16 fighter, being painted in election campaigning as a major Indian victory, admitting the loss of a helicopter and seven personnel due to friendly fire would present a bleaker picture.”
If this is true, it means that a military probe into a serious lapse that needlessly cost 6 military lives and one civilian life was delayed and its findings suppressed so as to help the BJP and Modi in elections. This indicates a grave and worrying degree of politicisation of armed forces.
Throughout the elections, the PM Modi and the BJP, in flagrant violation of the Model Code of Conduct prohibiting politicisation of actions of armed forces, milked the Balakot strike for votes, seeking to silence questions on all fronts. The PM Modi even told admiring pet TV anchors, “jab maine wahaan jaa kar aatankwadiyon ko maara” (When I went there (to Balakot) to kill terrorists). The PM also expressed annoyance that concern for the safe return of Abhinandan Varthaman had distracted from the celebration of the Balakot strike, saying “Opposition was more concerned about Abhinandan's return than IAF's valour”. Should Modi now not accept responsibility for the Budgam fiasco where an IAF strike killed 6 IAF personnel and a Kashmiri civilian?
Ever since the Pulwama attack, politically motivated jingoists (both in BJP and in BJP’s pet media) have tried to whip up the emotions of Indians against Pakistan and even against Kashmiris and Muslims. Any attempt to speak up for peace and against hatred was met by shouts of “Do you not care for our soldiers’ lives?” One retired General, GD Bakshi, who regularly appears on TV channels to brand every critic of Modi “anti-national”, shouted during one panel discussion on Balakot, “Army men die, who cares? WHO CARES? WE CARE, OK?” Does he not care for the 6 IAF personnel killed at Budgam? Why do TV anchors, retired generals, Canadian actors like Akshay Kumar, and politicians who perform patriotism for profit or for votes not express outrage on behalf of the 7 lives lost at Budgam? Do they perform outrage at loss of military lives only when it gives them an excuse to spread jingoism and hate? These hectoring motormouths do not care for soldiers or civilians killed needlessly by our own IAF missile. They are not outraged that this fact was cynically suppressed during polls so as not to spoil Modi's shameless vote-seeking Balakot boast.
We should remember the wise words of Vijeta Mandavgane, wife of Squadron Leader Ninad Mandavgane, one of the Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots killed at Budgam. Soon after the Budgam crash, she publicly rebuked those who were using soldiers’ deaths for war-mongering on media and social media. She had said, “We do not want war. You do not realise the damage a war inflicts on people… No other Ninad should be lost - from either side. If you have “Josh” (spirit) as a civilian, either join the armed forces yourself - or else be responsible citizens by fighting communal hatred and desisting from violence against women.”
Citizens of India must demand answers from Modi and his regime for the lives lost in the Budgam crash and for the political suppression of this fact during elections.