A video of the junior Defence Minister giving a short speech, inside an Indian Air Force aircraft, on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s contribution to the efforts to bring home Indian students stranded in conflict-hit Ukraine has raised a controversy.
Ajay Bhatt, the Union Minister of State for Defence, had boarded a heavy-lift cargo aircraft of the IAF after it landed at Hindon Air Force Station near Delhi, bringing students from Ukraine’s neighbouring countries.
In a blue jacket and a cap like the one worn by airmen, Mr Bhatt is seen telling the students in the aircraft, “Don’t worry at all. Your lives have been saved by the grace of Modi ji. Everything will be all right. Bharat Mata ki jai…mananiya Modi ji zindabad.”
He then gestures to the students to chant after him, which they do, with fists raised as they chanted “Bharat Mata ki jai“.
When the Union Minister came to the part where he said “mananiya Modi ji zindabad“, the students didn’t respond at first.
Mr Bhatt repeated, “mananiya Modi ji zindabad.”
Only then some of the students also shouted “zindabad” inside the Indian Air Force, or IAF, aircraft.
The video has been condemned by people on social media for what they claimed was improper use of a military platform to send a political message.
“This happening in an IAF aircraft is just not on,” Air Vice Marshal (retired) Manmohan Bahadur tweeted.
— Manmohan Bahadur (@BahadurManmohan) March 3, 2022
Some on social media drew attention to the students’ sudden silence to the Union Minister’s call for “mananiya Modi ji zindabad“.
Two C-17 transport aircraft carrying 210 passengers each from Bucharest in Romania and Budapest in Hungary landed in Hindon this morning.
India is operating multiple evacuation flights from airports in nations neighbouring Ukraine, where Russian forces are inching towards one city after another since the invasion started on February 24.
Ukraine had some 18,000 Indian students before the war started. Thousands have returned in evacuation flights. They had to reach Ukraine’s western borders on their own and cross into the neighbouring nations before they could take a flight home. The Russian invasion started from eastern Ukraine.