The Real story behind ‘Airlift’


Akshay Kumars ‘Airlift’ released this Friday and received wonderful reviews from the critics as well as the public . It revolves around Ranjit Katyal , a wealthy Indian business in Kuwait , who identifies more as a Kuwaiti than an Indian . But in the face of trouble , he takes the initiative to save the lives of the 170,000 Lakh Indians stranded in Kuwait and makes sure they all reach safely back to India.

The story is the fictionalization of the Rescue operation carried out by Air India  in 1990 during the Kuwait- Iraq war . Here is the story of what really happened :

1.Why the war 

Iraq was in a debt of more than US$80 billion to the US, money it had borrowed to finance its war against Iran. Iran wanted Kuwait to decrease the production of petroleum, so that its price went up , and they were able to recover the money . Kuwait didn’t agree on this . Also , Iraq accused Kuwait of ‘slant drilling’ and stealing Iraqi petroleum. All this led to Iraqi President , Saddam Hussain , declaring war on Kuwait.

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2.The Invasion

Iraq declared war on Kuwait , on August 2, 1990 .Within two days of the invasion , the Kuwait Army was either overrun by the Iraqi army or fell back to neighbors Saudi Arabia or Bahrain . Most of the Members of the Royal Family had already fled , the few who remained were killed as the Dasman Palace ( home to the Royal Family) fell . The army took over the city and the people suffered greatly at their hands .Kuwait was annexed by Iraq and Saddam Hussain  declared it as a province of Iraq

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3.About the Indians

When this happened , more than 170,000 Indians were stranded in Kuwait . Overnight these people were suddenly homeless and jobless . This is when prominent Indian business man Sunny ‘Toyota’ Mathewsalong with Harbajan Singh Vedi took it upon themselves to ensure the safety of the 170,000 people, now refugees . With their contacts and resources , they got all these Indians under one roof and looked after their needs . They gave them money to travel and food to eat. Before the Indian embassy in Kuwait shut down, Mathews managed to get travel documents for as many Indians as he could .For the thousands of people there , Mathews was a sort of ‘Messiah’ . The character of Ranjit Katyal in the movie is based on these two people .

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4.The ‘Airlift’

Due to difficulty in Air space clearance , military aircrafts couldn’t be used for the operation, so civil aircrafts had to be used . With the help of Mathews’ contacts and a visit by External Affairs minister I.K Gujral , Iraq permitted the evacuation operation . But there were a lot of complications due to the sheer number of people that had to be rescued and because of the lack of travel documents . Despite all this , by 14th August , the rescue operation started . For 59 days , 488 Air India flights flew back and forth from the War zone and carried these people back to Mumbai, over a distance of 4,117kms . Mathews stayed on till the last Indian was evacuated . About 10,000 people decided to stay back .

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We are talking of a time when India itself was not a stable economy like today .Civil Aircrafts flew into the War zone despite all the danger this put them in . A few men , instead of saving their lives first , took the initiative to save over a Lakh others ! These brave men and a principled government made this operation possible . The nation is in all of their debt . 

About The Author


Palak Banta (BDS, PU Campus)

Dentist in the making . Cat person .I Love to read . Also I love trying out new food.


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