Released on the eve of the Republic Day, Bollywood movie Airlift — filmmakers claim that is based on ‘real-life incidents’ during Kuwait’s invasion by Iraq in 1990 — has left the family of then external affairs minister Inder Kumar Gujral, who went on become the prime minister in 1997, rather sour. Gujral’s son and Rajya Sabha MP of Shiromani Akali Dal, Naresh Gujral, has accused the film-maker of ‘fictionalising history to make money at the box office’.
The movie, with Akshay Kumar in the lead, shows the then external affairs minister downplaying the crisis and telling his subordinate officer — who the movie credits for setting the ball rolling in the ministry to airlift stranded Indians — that his government in New Delhi was unstable and he could not think about Indians stuck in Kuwait at such a time.
It also shows the top brass of the Indian embassy in Kuwait deserting the country leaving over 1.7 lakh Indians to fend for themselves.
The film credits a businessman — Ranjit Katyal — for carrying out the biggest evacuation of its citizens by any country during Iraq’s invasion of cash-rich Kuwait in 1990.
The film also carries a disclaimer stating that the characters and events are fictional and any resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely unintentional.
Speaking to Hindustan Times, Gujral, who has not seen the movie yet, said, “My father played a pivotal role in airlifting Indians from war-torn Kuwait. He flew to Russia and then the US before going to meet Saddam in Iraq. After convincing him to allow Indians a safe passage, he flew to Kuwait. It was all done in four days. It is utter rubbish that he was complacent on the issue. Ours was the only country that was able to come to rescue of so many people at that time. That the Indian embassy’s top bosses in Kuwait ran away is also nonsense. They were also patriotic people and spent many a sleepless nights thinking on how to rescue Indians.”
He added that his father — through his tact and charm — been able to convince someone with an ego like Saddam, who was defiant of the whole world at that time, to let Indian airplanes land and lift its citizens out of the war zone.
On the infamous picture of IK Gujral hugging Saddam, the Member of Parliament said whether it was infamous or famous, one could not say no to the President of a country that you needed a favour from, if he wanted to hug you.
“He convinced Saddam that the stranded Indians included old people, women and children must be allowed to leave. Someone’s legacy cannot be destroyed by film-makers like this. Not only was the minister’s role commended by the media then, but also the Parliament,” he said.