Guwahati, Sept 12: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi's first ever visit to Assam post-riots did not spare him from staying away from controversy. Many raised eyebrows when an Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot refused to fly Rahul Gandhi from Kokrajhar to Guwahati on Tuesday, Sept 11.
However, senior officials of IAF supported the pilots who compelled the Congress scion to return back to Guwahati by road. The officials on Wednesday tried to end the controversy saying, "Based on the prevailing weather and approaching sunset, the pilot taking the safety of the VIP as being paramount, arrived at the decision that it was unsafe to undertake the flight. The pilot's decision was taken using his professional judgement."
Rahul met refugees who have been staying in relief camps in Kokrajhar where riots were broken out following the violence between the Bodos and Muslims in the region.
Rahul's visit to the state at this time can be termed as - too little, too late. He faced criticism for not taking any strong stand when the state was burning. His mother Sonia Gandhi had met the refugees but the young leader did not appear at that time.
Rahul Gandhi was accompanied by the Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi. After facing the adamant pilot's reply, Rahul flew in a chopper from Kokrajhar to Dhubri and then returned to Guwahati by road, Gogoi returned by train.
Read the full statement by IAF:
An IAF heptr was detailed to ferry Shri Tarun Gogoi, Hon'ble Chief Minister of Assam and Shri Rahul Gandhi, Hon'ble Member of Parliament to Dubri, Chirang and Kokrajhar. The last leg was planned from Kokrajhar to Guwahati around 1700 h. The weather at Guwahati was reported as continuous rain, lightning and thundershowers, with two cumulonimbus (CB) cells overhead and in the vicinity of the airfield. The Civil Met Deptt at Guwahati had also issued a weather warning at 1700 h for rain and thundershowers with winds gusting to 20 kts (36 kmph). The weather at diversionary airfield Hasimara and enroute from Kokrajhar to Guwahati was also overcast with low clouds and wide spread rain patches.
Based on the prevailing weather and approaching sunset, the pilot taking the safety of the VIP as being paramount, arrived at the decision that it was unsafe to undertake the flight. The Pilot's decision was taken using his professional judgment in the interest of safety of aircraft and its occupants. IAF strongly stands by the decision of the pilot, since Flight Safety and the Safety of the VIPs on board are considered paramount.
The heptr has still not been able to return to Guwahati due to continuing bad weather.