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Rajiv -Friend Of Friends - Fifth Issue, September, 2006
Retd.Wing Co.S.C.Dandiya

Whilst the nation was celebrating the birthday of late Rajiv Gandhi on 20th August, I recalled with nostalgia my association with him which started at Jaipur Airport. During 1977-78, Rajiv used to bring Delhi-Agra-Jaipur IAC flight and land his AVRO 748 sometimes in the evening while I used to impart gliding training to NCC Cadets. I was introduced to him by Capt. Navin Sharma of RFC and there after on almost every time after landing he would walk towards NCC and RFC hangers to meet us. He used to love to have his tea made by one of our lascar Kishori Lal. Simplicity personified, once when his Air Craft was inordinately delayed, we got some dinner from Milap Restaurant and Rajiv relished it with us not bothering about all that great service lined up for him by the Airlines staff.

I recall having asked him if he was ever interested in joining politics to which he said that he was very happy in his present job and politics is better left for his brother Sanjay who was more apt to that life. Once I casually happened to discuss with him the subject of his brother Sanjay taking up hobby flying and also doing aerobatics on his newly acquired aircraft which I felt was rather premature for his experience, to which he said that he too was worried on that score but was perhaps unable to stop Sanjay from his air adventures.


I was then posted out in 1979 on promotion as Wing Commander to a missile course at Barrackpore .During that posting my brother-in-law was to be married at Jaipur so I managed a week end leave for two days and took IAC flight from Dum Dum to Delhi via Patna for onward connection to a flight from Delhi to Jaipur. The flight was somehow delayed at Patna where the Bihar Governor who was to board the flight came late. The Captain of IAC flight, Capt. R.C. Sharma was known to me and I mentioned my plight to him about the fear of missing the Jaipur connection from Delhi. Capt. Sharma passed on the message on SELCAL to IAC mentioning my name and if it was possible to transfer me from one plane to the other plane on tarmac itself so that I don’t miss the Jaipur bound flight. Those days the security was not that hot. As I alighted from the aircraft, to my pleasant surprise I saw Capt. Rajiv Gandhi and Navin Sharma smiling at me and took my only hand carried luggage and transferred me from 737 to 748 without any other formalities and flew me to Agra. Rajivji himself took me to the Agra IAC lounge where I wanted to make a phone call to my wife at Jaipur. So this was Rajiv, so humane, cordial and friend of friends.

Events somehow have their own way of turning out. My flight back from Delhi to Dum Dum was also delayed and as I was waiting at the Airport restaurant I again saw Rajiv and Navin Sharma and I joined them for a brunch.

I was then posted to Suratgarh in October 1979. In the summer of 1980, I was spending my annual leave with my children at Srinagar where on 23 June, I heard of the sad untimely demise of Sanjay Gandhi due to plane crash about which I already had some fears. Things changed fast and Rajivji reluctantly joined politics to assist his mother Mrs. Indira Gandhi. I was posted to Air HQ in May 82.

s Deputy Director org I was commissioned to complete the forthcoming Golden Jubilee brochure of the IAF which was to be in the form of a brief Air Force History. Time was short, the very basic script was written by Air Cmde Jasjit Singh and rest of the work with the help of DAVP was to be done by me. The brochure was compiled and published and was to be released on 8th October, 1982 in Air Force Day tea party at the Air house by the Honourable President of India. At the party, handsome Rajiv came in his white kurta and churidars and all eyes were glued on him. The Honourable Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi was also there but stayed very briefly. The Honourable President Sh. Sanjiv Reddy somehow didn’t turn up and the Golden Jubilee brochure was released by the Honourable Vice-President Hidayatullah. The centre of attention was however Rajiv Gandhi. Everyone, specially the women folk were dying to get his attention. I was rather junior in the crowd of the Alumni of the Air Force, Army and Navy, standing aloof on one side and I met Rajiv’s eyes who was standing tall amongst all. He smiled and walked straight towards me and literally hugged me like an old chum. I was taken aback as all eyes in the party were towards us. He took me aside and we talked about our Jaipur days and Navin Sharma and other common friends. I mentioned to him about the brochure and Air Force History and he immediately asked for it and went through it. He himself asked for a photographer and had me photographed with him looking at the brochure. He also asked if the Golden Jubilee aerobatic team could release colours on their last manoeuvre. I called Group Captain Brar, the acrobatic team leader who discussed the issue with Rajiv. Perhaps all this also became a cause for envy amongst the senior IAF officers as to why I was getting so much attention from him as everyone knew he was the centre of power after Smt. Indira Gandhi and perhaps the next prime minister.

Events changed very fast and in October 1984 Smt. Indira Gandhi was assassinated and Rajiv became the youngest prime minister of India. He astutely handled the affairs, visited USA, met Reagon, visited USSR and resolved the Punjab issue with the Longowal accord. I wrote a letter to him appreciating his handling the affairs as PM which was personally delivered to him by my friend Shri Manphool singh, MP in the central hall of the Parliament. Next day itself, the reply came signed personally by him and delivered to my home at Princess park through a personal courier. I still posses that letter as a fond memory.

I was then posted as CO to NO 1 Delhi Air sqdn in September 1986. It was a cold Sunday at Safdar Jung on 11th January, 1987, very foggy with almost nil visibility, hence all flying activity was stopped, so our cadets were practicing parasailing for rehearsals of the forthcoming NCC Air Show to be held on soon after,at Safdar Jung. I was sitting outside my office with Wing Commander BARBARA and Wing Commander MOTEY planning the Air Show. Two of our cadets came on a scooter and mentioned to me that Mr. Rajiv Gandhi was at the parasailing site and desired to meet me, ‘if possible’. I could not believe what I heard.. Wing Commanderdr BABARA actually asked the cadet that ‘You know who Rajiv Gandhi is? You think he will just drop by?’.

In the meanwhile I could see faraway across the runway a couple of cars but no usual white ambassadors near the parasail. The messenger cadet also mentioned that Rajiv had enquired as to who the CO was and when he said it was Wing Commander DANDIYA he enquired if it was Wing Commander Subhash Dandiya.When it was confirmed to him that the CO was Subhash Dandiya,he expressed his wish to meet the CO.Our car and jeep was on the other side of the runway and so Wing Cdr BARBARA and I went there on the scooter and saw Rajiv Gandhi talking to the cadets. He had come on his Gray Toyata car along with Priyanka and Rahul and was accompanied by only two security staff . As I approached him he greeted me profusely, took me aside, mentioned that he was coming back from his farm house and seeing the parasailing just dropped by. He asked me if it was ok for him to do a para launch. I said it was quite safe, even the CAS Air Chief Marshal Lafentaine had just done it the previous day. Immediately thereafter, Lt Col. Puri who was the main para Instructor briefed him on the nitty-gritty of parasailing and strapped Rajiv. There was no movie camera but fortunately there was one Brigadiare Cortozo who had also come for parasailing, and he had a still camera and he photographed these moments.

Within a Jiffy, Rajiv was up in the air floating by a parasail pulled by a jeep and it was a perfect launch without any lag or a mistake and a perfect landing. Weather had also cleared and some good photographs were taken. He landed, unstrapped and was quite thrilled and radiantly smiling.

We got the log book and he signed and put his remarks. He seemed to be in no hurry. In the meanwhile, some cadet brought hot tea in an aluminium kettle and small glasses which was offered to him and he relished it with all taste. My photograph with him evincing keen interest in Golden Jubilee brochure had appeared in 1985 brochure of IAF day which I got from my office and he signed that photograph recalling our Air House meeting in October 1982. He stayed for good 30-40 minutes, had himself photographed with the cadets at Safdar Jung Air Port and went back very happily.

I informed my senior bosses in NCC who were quite stunned and offerred no comments at that time. Someone had informed Hindustan Times whose reporter came to my office within a couple of hours. We had got the photographs printed by that time. I wanted permission to release the news to the media but no formal ok came through. However, next day it was a front page headline news in HT with photograph of Rajiv Gandhi on parasail and myself briefing him. I did not know whether I had done a right thing or a wrong thing – however, I had no choice. Whole of the media were after me. They all wanted to talk to me and brief them on the events, I was awfully busy organising the forthcoming NCC Air Show to be held a few days later only. Since every thing had gone very well with positive publicity by the media DG NCC General Maya Das expressed his appreciation. However, there was a feeling amongst NCC top brass that I had known about the visit of the PM earlier but did not inform them and hogged all the lime light which was not a fact. Some media people were also annoyed with me as to why the news was not released to other papers and why to HT only. Later on, I got a call from my cousin from California that the news was published in New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle of which he sent me the cutting.

So this was late Rajiv Gandhi. How I wish he was there to lead the nation today. I have been across the globe many a times and seen 66 summers but I have never come across such a radiant, true, candid yet graceful and amiable person in my life.