There’s at least one striking thing that the armed forces may not have known about Prime Minister Narendra Modi until he boarded India’s largest and most expensive warship, the INS Vikramaditya, off the Goa coast on Saturday.
The navy found out Modi, 63, knows how to return a crisp salute, a refreshing change from politicians who often goof up that all-important military ritual.
The PM hit it off with the navy the moment he alighted from a Seaking helicopter onto the aircraft carrier’s flight deck after a 15-minute flight from naval air station INS Hansa at Dabolim.
Accompanied by navy chief Admiral Robin Dhowan, Modi strode towards a MiG-29K fighter in his trademark jacket worn over a crisp full-sleeved kurta and churidaars. He greeted the pilot with a vigourous handshake, a broad smile and patted his back.
The Special Protection Group officer by Modi’s side appeared a tad nervous as the PM climbed a 12-foot ladder to get into the plane’s cockpit. Settling into the cramped cockpit of a fighter plane can be a bit tricky for a first-timer, but Modi got in without breaking a sweat.
He then donned a Vikramaditya hat with ‘PM’ emblazoned on it. He waved it at the navy personnel on the flight deck, earning a huge round of applause. That image, a navy officer said, would surely adorn the force’s next annual calendar.
Heavy rain pounding the Arabian Sea disrupted some of the activities planned for Modi’s first engagement outside Delhi after being sworn in as PM on May 26.
However, the four hours he spent on the Russian-made carrier gave him a ringside view of the navy’s combat readiness, its newest platforms, expanding air power and the challenges that confront it.
The stuff that may have impressed Modi includes a fusillade of anti-submarine rockets fired from Talwar-class stealth frigates involved in the drill and MiG-29K fighters performing touch-and-go missions on the flight deck barely 10 metres from where the PM watched, standing under an umbrella.
Some tough talk surfaced in Modi’s address to the ship’s crew. The PM asserted India would neither threaten, nor be intimidated by any power. The country, he said, would engage all nations as equals.
“Hum kisiko naa aankh dikhaayenge, naa aankh jhukaayenge, duniya se aankh milaa ke baat karenge,” the PM said, shortly after he was presented a salute by eight leading warships sailing past the carrier in what is known as a “steam past” in naval parlance. Modi also got a glimpse of India’s only other aircraft carrier, the INS Viraat.
The $2.33-billion Russian-made aircraft carrier, formerly known as Admiral Gorshkov, was commissioned into the navy last November at Severodvinsk in Russia, almost 20 years after India began negotiations to buy the warship.
Modi reiterated that the NDA government would construct a national war memorial and implement the longstanding demand for one rank, one pension --- commitments that figured prominently in the recent Presidential address to both Houses of Parliament.
“His charisma extends beyond the political stage,” said a young officer, summing up the Modi visit.