The Air Force is one of the most potent branches of modern warfare. It does not only add up immensely to the firepower of the defense forces but also empowers the ground troops by giving close combat support in times of need. However, in India’s case, Congress has historically undermined the importance of IAF. Successive Congress governments have been guilty of not pressing the IAF into action when it was absolutely necessary to do so and also not modernising it to the required extent.
One of the most monumental failures of Congress came during the 1962 Sino-India war. Nehru government had displayed weak leadership skills during the war. Among a number of blunders that the then prime minister Nehru committed at that time, probably the biggest blunder was not employing the Indian Air force into combat. According to the CIA, the Chinese Air Force was no match to the Indian one back then and air combat would have been a huge advantage to India. This showed a total lack of vision with the Congress government at that time. In 2012, a former IAF Air Chief Marshal, AY Tipnis had blamed Nehru for India’s defeat in the 1962 war. His comments had come at a time when it was being debated as to why air power was not used during the 1962 Sino-India war.
The ignorance that the Congress has traditionally shown towards the IAF came to the fore during the 1965 war between India and Pakistan. Going into the war, the IAF was numerically stronger than the PAF. However, qualitatively there was a huge advantage in the latter’s favour. While the IAF consisted of first-generation subsonic fighters such as Vampire and Dassault Toofani and second-generation transonic Mystere, Hawker Hunter and Gnats, along with a mere handful of the MiG-21s which were then being acquired from Russia, the PAF was equipped with much better aircrafts such as the F-86 Sabre, F-104 Starfighters and B-57 Martin Canberras. PAF boasted of better radars and weapons too. The IAF had to go into war with inferior fighters only because the Congress ignored the importance of a powerful Air Force in modern warfare.
Apart from compelling the Indian Air Force to go into almost all the wars with below par fighters, the Congress has also been instrumental in not allowing the IAF to modernise its infrastructure and induct better aircraft. It is the unpardonable neglect of the Indian Air Force on the part of the successive Congress governments due to which the MiG-21 is still a part of the Indian Air Force and its pilots have to use the vintage aircraft which is highly unsafe. MiG-21 is way past its retirement age but has still been kept operational through repeated upgrades and extensions. Failures due to old components have proved to be undoing of the Soviet era fighter jet. Infamous as the most accident-prone fighter of the IAF, the MiG-21 has earned the names “flying coffin” or the “widow maker”. Even today, 113 MiG-21s are known to be active in the Indian Air Force. Moreover, since 1963, 1,200 MiG-21s have been inducted into the IAF. This shows that the Congress which has been at the helm of affairs for a major part of the time period since India’s independence has been totally ignorant of the needs of the IAF.
The catastrophic ignorance and indecisiveness that the Congress has shown towards the modernisation of the IAF reached its peak in 2014 when the then Defence Minister, A K Antony bluntly stated that India would not sign a $ 20 billion deal to acquire fighter jets for the Indian Air Force. The bizarre reason that the UPA government had given for deferring the crucial defence deal was that the military had run out of money for that fiscal year. It is hard to digest the fact that while the previous UPA government had no money to buy modern fighter jets for the IAF, it was planning to purchase VVIP helicopters during its tenure. The agreement for choppers was cancelled on grounds of breach of the Pre-contract Integrity Pact (PCIP).
Even after unabashedly depriving the IAF of modernisation, the Congress president Rahul Gandhi still has the audacity to indulge in political blame game over the Rafale deal finalised by the government of the day. He has been giving lame excuses one after another in order to manufacture some kind of wrongdoing out of this deal. This shows the animosity of the Congress against modernisation of the IAF, irrespective of the fact whether it is in power or in the opposition.