Diplomats set facts right over 'Airlift'

Diplomats set facts right over 'Airlift'
Akshay Kumar starrer “Airlift” and the row over it brought the focus back on the real airlift of 1,76,000 Indians from the war-zones of Kuwait in August 1990 – a massive evacuation, which was no less dramatic than the film.

The real-life diplomats involved with the evacuation of Indians from Kuwait after invasion by Iraq in fact had to do much more than what the film directed by Raja Krishna Menon portrayed them doing.

They not only had to ensure cooperation from Saddam Hussain’s administration in Baghdad and coordinate with Jordanian government while evacuating people from the airport in Amman, but also had to deal with expatriates, who just wanted to jump the queues, and placate the Air India crew, who were initially reluctant to work beyond duty hours. 

“Airlift” drew flak from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) as well as serving and retired diplomats, who pointed out that the film missed out on facts and not adequately portray the efforts made by the government during the evacuation that was still considered one of the largest in the history.

The diplomats are upset as the film sought to portray businessman Ranjit Katiyal, the character played by Akshay Kumar, as the one who made the evacuation possible. What also irked them is that the film portrays the character of MEA joint secretary Sanjeev Kohli as the one, who was initially reluctant to act proactively to bring home thousands of Indians who were stranded in Kuwait.

The real-life evacuation, however, had K P Fabian, who was then the joint secretary heading the Gulf Division in the MEA, playing the lead role in coordinating New Delhi’s response to the crisis, including Fabian, who accompanied the then External Affairs Minister I K Gujral to Iraq to obtain Saddam Hussain’s permission for repatriation of Indians from Kuwait.

They then reached Kuwait, where they had to meet Indians, who were anxious to leave the war-torn country soon. Gujral stood up on the bonnet of a car, addressed the Indians and reassured them of all assistance from the government.

In an interview to Indian Foreign Affairs Journal in 2011, Fabian recalled that when it was decided that first batch of evacuees would return in the same aircraft that Gujral and his entourage had flown in, some expats from Punjab met Gujral and persuaded him to promise preference in selecting the few who could return home immediately.
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