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Defence minister sits in comforts of office as IAF grieves loss of its bravehearts

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The country’s defence minister was conspicuously absent when the bodies of five Indian Air Force pilots, who died in a chopper crash while on a rescue mission in Uttarakhand, arrived at the Hindon air base in the national capital region on Friday. Instead, AK Antony was sitting in his comfortable south block office.

More than 1,000 IAF personnel and about 8,000 army men have been involved in one of the biggest rescue and relief operations ever undertaken by the defence forces in the country. These men have been braving inclement weather to evacuate thousands of stranded pilgrims and locals after floods and landslides devastated parts of Uttarakhand on June 16.

The IAF has carried out 1,857 sorties so far, saving more than 15,000 people. In the process, one of its Mi-17 V5 choppers crashed on Tuesday, killing all 20 people on board. The ones who fell were the Wing Commander Darryl Castelino, Flight Lieutenant K Praveen, Junior Warrant Officer AK Singh, Sergeant Sudhakar Yadav and Delhi-based Flight Lieutenant Tapan Kapoor; of the rest, six were from the Indo-Tibetan Border Force and nine from the National Disaster Rescue Force. 

“Twenty warriors have died. It is a loss for the entire nation,” Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne had said then.

The tragic loss of his men though didn’t seem to move the defence minister, or for that matter, any other cabinet minister. There is no protocol that specifies that the defence minister be present at such times, but courtesy demands that he show his solidarity, and honour the commitment of the men in uniform at the time of such tragedy.

While Antony sent letters to the family of the deceased, expressing his sorrow, he didn’t deem it necessary to be present to receive their bodies despite being present in Delhi. To add to the insensitivity, Antony’s junior minister, minister of state Jitendra Singh, a protégée of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, stayed put in Paris, where he had gone to attend last week’s Paris Air Show.

In contrast, Anthony’s colleague, union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde, spent time with ITBP jawans and, along with Uttarakhand chief minister Vijay Bahuguna, attended the Guard of Honour ceremony for the 20 brave hearts in Dehradun earlier on Friday.

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