Vajpayee was firm on not crossing LoC during Kargil: Ex-air chief Tipnis

New Delhi: “Hum LoC cross nahi karenge (we will not cross the LoC),” was the firm diktat by the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Chief of Air Staff A.Y. Tipnis during the Kargil conflict in 1999.

Recalling the events that led to India using air power to drive out Pakistani army intruders who had occupied the peaks overlooking the Srinagar-Leh highway in 1999, Tipnis said that when Vajpayee learnt that the Indian Army was finding it difficult to carry out operations without air assistance, he immediately agreed for the use of air power.

However, when Tipnis pressed further for freedom of maneuvering aircraft beyond the Line of Control (LoC), he got a firm “no” as an answer, the then air chief said at the launch of the then navy chief Admiral Sushil Kumar’s book “A Prime Minister to Remember”.

Tipnis said that while Vajpayee had given his nod for air operations, the Indian Air Force (IAF) had to carry out the order with great difficulty due to the restriction of not crossing the LoC.

“I knew that we would have certainly done the job but not as well as we could have had we had freedom of action,” said Tipnis, adding that he asked Vajpayee again if they had the permission to cross the LoC.

“The Prime Minister, in a voice firmer than I have ever heard, said ‘NO, hum LoC cross nahi karenge (no, we will not cross the LoC),” said Tipnis.

The former air chief said that Vajpayee spoke rarely in the meetings of the Cabinet Committee of Security (CCS) as Brajesh Mishra did most of the talking though he (Vajpayee) was firmly in command of the situation.

“Vajpayee generally never spoke at the meetings, mostly it was Brajesh Mishra or MEA… For the first time he asked the army chief whether this (army operation) can be done without IAF. I stepped in before General Ved Malik (then army chief) could respond and said ‘Sir, the army needs air support and we are ready. We can start operations tomorrow morning but if necessary it can be done within the next six hours’,” he said.

“The Prime Minister was pensive for a few moments and then he looked up and said, ‘start from tomorrow morning’,” said Tipnis, who was of the opinion that if IAF would not have been able to follow that diktat without crossing the LoC, Vajpayee would have agreed to cross the line.

“Having done that joint assessment with my commanders, we knew that if pushed we would restrict ourselves to our side of LoC. Therefore, I was able to accept the Prime Minister’s diktat.

“But I also knew, and I think that this particular belief of mine was strengthened by my three years as air chief under Vajpayee, that if IAF would have not been able to follow that diktat and if I had explained to the Prime Minister, I have no doubts that perhaps he would have, with due thought and discussion, given the green signal if it was necessary,” Tipnis said.