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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A time limit cause is holding up a national honour for an IAF fighter pilot who made the supreme sacrifice.

Honour eludes a war hero -Flying Officer K.P. Muralidharan

Kochi: Morbid red-tapism is hindering a well-deserved honour from coming to a valiant young air warrior who is believed to have made the supreme sacrifice in the Indo-Pak war in 1971. Almost three decades after Flying Officer K.P. Muralidharan was first declared ‘missing in action’ (MIA) and then ‘presumed killed [for official purposes]’ in a rather unsuccessful air raid over Peshawar in Pakistan on the second day of the war, a national honour for gallantry still eludes the Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter pilot who was with the magnificent No.20 Squadron ‘Lightnings’.

Apparently, what is holding up his case is a time-limit clause recently introduced by the government in conferring such medals. “I am given to understand that acting on my petition to Defence Minister A.K. Antony last year, the Air Force Hq. pitched for the award of the Mahavir Chakra to Muralidharan after it was convinced that the officer had gone down fighting like a hero. But a two-year bracket recently set by the government has now brought the case in limbo,” says K. Rajendran Nair, a relative of Muralidharan.
Last week, the former Supreme Court Judge V.R. Krishna Iyer despatched a powerfully-worded letter to Mr. Antony advocating Muralidharan’s case. Terming the alleged denial of the Mahavir Chakra a “betrayal of the nation’s duty to honour an act of self sacrifice,” he wrote: “Those who plead the bar of limitation to withhold this legitimate honour have done an act of disgrace by the neglect…I entreat you on behalf of the nation to hasten and reverse the neglect so far made.”

INTERCEPTED - Muralidharan, 26, who was born to Padamanabhan Thirumulpad of Nilambur Kovilakam and Malathi, was hardly two years in service when he took off from Pathankot on a Hunter aircraft on that fateful day, December 4, 1971, for a strafing run on the Peshawar airfield. Squadron Leader K.N. Bajpai, flying another Hunter, was also part of the mission. As it turned out, they were intercepted by Pakistan Air Force’s (PAF) F-86 Sabres, as it was IAF’s second attack on Peshawar that day. Flying to Peshawar meant stretching the Hunter to its limit which forbade any probable combat as it would cause fuel shortage. While Bajpai managed to return, Muralidharan went missing in the ensuing dogfight with one of the Sabres. Overtime, it was deemed that he was among the 54 Prisoners of War (PoW) Pakistan was believed to have interned in its jails post the war.

That was the case until a few years ago when a retired PAF officer, Wing Commander Salim Mirza Baig, who was in the thick of action in 1971, revealed in a personal war account that the Hunter flown by Muralidharan was among the two Indian fighter aircraft brought down by him in separate air battles in the war. (The second was a Gnat flown by Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon, who took on six marauding Sabres over Srinagar before being gunned down by Baig). Sekhon was posthumously decorated with the Param Vir Chakra, the IAF’s sole PVC till date. In his tale of the battle over Peshawar, Baig admires the Hunter (flown by Muralidharan) that he took on, calling it a ‘tough nut to crack’ and conclusively says that the pilot was killed in air combat. "Even as time limit is said to be standing in way of a belated honour to the war hero, there’s precedence to the contrary,” says Mr. Nair.

“Squadron Leader A.B. Devayya was posthumously awarded the Mahavir Chakra 23 years after the 1965 war based on a PAF officer’s account of his bravery. After the Kargil war, Pakistan conferred its highest military award the ‘Nishan-e-Haider’ posthumously on Captain Karnal Sher Khan based on an Indian officer’s war account. What, then, impedes Muralidharan’s case?” he asks.

As Mr. Iyer highlights in his letter to Mr. Antony: “… bureaucracy sometimes delays and in an ungrateful manner defeats what is due.”


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