Naval Air Shows: Are we becoming Nero's Guests?

On 3rd March 2010, an Indian Navy trainer aircraft crashed into a two-storied building in a congested locality during an air show, killing Commander S.K. Maurya and Lt Commander Rahul Nair . The incident happened when the HJT-16 Kiran MK2 trainer aircraft, built by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, crashed in Bowenpally locality near the old Begumpet Airport in the city.

The crash of the naval aircraft has been termed as ‘unfortunate’ by our honorable Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel Wednesday and he promptly declared that the tragedy wouldn’t affect the event in any way.

‘These kinds of mishaps have happened during such events in the past the world over. It is very unfortunate but I don’t think this (aircraft crash) will any way hamper or affect the event. The show will go on’- this was the disgracefully casual and insensitive declaration by the minster on the death of two naval pilots at the prime of their life.

According to a civil aviation ministry official, there were five such crashes during air shows in the world last year. Similarly there were four such crashes during air shows in 2008 and seven in 2007. In their viewpoint, sacrifice of these naval acrobats is a tolerable episode to trumpet the synthetic glory of our Navy.

I wonder why the prestigious Indian naval air cadets should work like circus artists. May I know from the minister what is the objective in showcasing this stunt show before public other than trumpeting the vanity of our vanguards in defence?

As far as I know, air attack during war is not a colorful parade but a calculative blitzkrieg done under stealth. Practices required for the same are different and are performed in aircrafts designed for it. I wish such air shows were conducted using unmanned aircrafts so that human life is not at stake. I could have understood if such air shows were the events undertaken by sports agencies, like Formula One car race conducted by FIA or other similar adventure sports . There the participants are aware of the risk; they often choose the very best vehicles with superlative safety features and above all they voluntarily choose that profession. How many naval cadets have the option to voluntarily choose the aircraft they need for such acrobatics? What avionics do these flying coffins have? They may often get an economy model of indigenous make or a third-rate Russian trainer aircraft. I am sure at least a few officers are pushed into this aerial extravaganza by the stern command of their superiors to uphold the false pride of the Navy.

Our defence top brass should have the responsibility to the men and women under their command and to the nation as a whole. They cannot keep on shedding the blood of innocent men and women in their hands and such shows give a wrong picture to the nation and to the bureaucracy about our state of military preparedness when we are still dealing with 2nd World War vintage equipment. Our dear naval pilots do not have a death wish and are not adrenaline junkies like Michael Schumacher or late Ayrton Senna.

Above all, I am shocked at the decision of the Navy to continue the air show despite this traumatic tragedy. I am numbed at the willingness and mindset of our politicians, the colleagues of the killed and the elite class in Hyderabad who sat there drinking Pepsi to watch the rest of the air show while the beloveds of the killed wrenched in agony back in Delhi. Will the honor of the Navy collapse if we call off this year’s air shows as a mark of honor to the brave lads who died in the sky for a mere diversion than a mission?

I am reminded of a historical incident told by the famous journalist P Sainath in a speech. After the ruin of Rome in the great fire, the atmosphere was one of depression. The time was also one of rebellion. To deflect the attention from the incident, Emperor Nero hosted a lavish dinner party. The guest list was a virtual “who’s who” of Rome - The elite, the learned and the artists-and everyone was invited. However, there was a problem with illumination. The torches were running short of oil. Nero ordered for his captive prisoners to be tied to the torches so that they could be the fuel for the torches.

Sainath felt that though Nero’s action was barbaric, it was in keeping with his royal attitude of insensitivity. But, Nero’s guests, who devoured the feast - insensitive to the horrendous screams of prisoners being burnt at stake -  were the greater culprits. Not one of them raised a voice of protest. They just gleefully gorged the dinner! Now, you may ask who the guests of Nero were.

Nero’s’ guests were educated men of arts. They were people who took pride in describing themselves as cultured persons. They were people who lived in comforts like some of us. They get entry into the social circles of the powerful elite of politicians and businessmen, they visit fun clubs, attend parties and while away time attending events like air shows. They are insensitive to the whimper of ordinary people like the pilots who died.

Indifference is said to be a greater crime than hatred. No matter what we do to enlarge our lives, it is of no consequence if we kill our conscience. To be better as a human being is to connect better with our humanism. To be better, we must be sensitive as well as responsive to what is happening around us.

If we were sensitive to the life of each and every personnel in our Navy, we wouldn’t let these kinds of gory spectacles unfold in the air and yet relish it.

Why don’t we ban such pompous naval air shows if they don’t serve any purpose other than entertainment - especially when we know we aren’t equipped sophisticatedly for such freak sports?

Will the minister Praful Patel and his coterie of defence brass listen to my meek voice?  


More by :  P. G. R. Nair

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