When the Prime Minister’s plane crashed

Morarji Desai is remembered for various things (particularly his drinking habits and his birthday on February 29), and more seriously for being the first non-Congress Prime Minister (for what it is worth). He was also one of the few major political figures of India to escape a fatal plane crash (unlike Sardar Patel’s case in 1949 where no one was injured although the plane was written off).

A bit of legend has come up regarding this crash, citing the valiant crew of the IAF who “sacrificed their lives in order to save the passengers”. Things have not been helped because the results of inquiries into military aviation accidents are not generally released to the press.

In contrast, the DGCA now does put detailed accident reports on its website www.dgca.in

Click on the Aircraft tab and then Accident/Incident

Summaries of civil aviation accident reports going back to 1960 can also be seen there. You can even get this information back to 1950 through RTI.

Anyway, we come back to the crash of an IAF TU-124 near Jorhat on November 4, 1977. I was not able to obtain any Indian newspaper for that period. The basic details can be seen here:

https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19771105-0

The only picture available on the net:

As you can see, the front portion was badly damaged but the rest of the aircraft was relatively intact. The TU-124 was carrying 11 crew and 9 passengers. 5 of the crew in the front portion were killed while some of the passengers and other crew were injured, some seriously including the PM’s son Kanti and the then CM of Arunachal PK Thungon. The PM appears to have been unscathed.

Now the report of the inquiry commission headed by Air Marshal Subbiah does not seem to be available to the public. The next best reference may be this blogpost by a retired senior IAF officer:

https://tkstales.wordpress.com/2011/10/19/754/

Read it carefully. Many of the follow-up comments are of interest.

It does seem to be due to human error, but whether the crew or someone else in the IAF was responsible is still unclear.

The accident site appears to be near Takelagaon village near Bhalukmara railway station, about 10 km south-west of Jorhat airport.

https://www.google.co.in/maps/@26.6644431,94.1154097,14z

Update: A first-person account written by one of the IAF officers who survived the crash It has a few more pictures:

http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/IAF/history/1970s/1364-jorhat-crash.html

Footnote: More about Morarji Desai here:

https://abn397.wordpress.com/2015/01/21/morarji-desai-everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-him-but-were-afraid-to-ask/

 

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Long names in different countries

If you have to cover news from India (particularly South India) or Sri Lanka, you may think you have an unfair burden in having to deal with long names. In cricket alone there are long single names (Venkataraghavan, Sivaramakrishnan) and several initials (VVS Laxman, CPS Chauhan, RMH Binny and MSK Prasad). Sri Lanka has some long surnames (where Sinhalese such as Wijegunewardene and Warnakulasariya score over Tamilians like Muralitharan), but they beat India hands down in initials, with the world’s number one UWBMCA Welegedera and number two WPUCJ Vaas. Worse still, this pair has played together in several matches.

But other states of India should not be neglected. Bengal has had CMs like Buddhadev Bhattacharya and other notables like Bibitibhushan Bandopadhaya.

India has had PMs such as Pamolaparti Venkata Narasimha Rao and Haradanahalli Doddegowda Deve Gowda, much to the dismay of foreign journalists. When Chandrashekhar flashed by as PM, the New York Times correspondent for India made it a point to always mention him as “Mr Chandrashekhar (who uses only one name)”. This became a sort of joke for Indians living in the US, so they referred to the correspondent as “Barbara Crossette (who uses only two names)”.

And if our previous PM used the normal Sikh naming system, he would probably be Manmohan Singh Gah which somehow doesn’t sound as impressive as, say, Prakash Singh Badal or even Harbhajan Singh Plaha or Kapil Dev Nikhanj. But for really long names we have to go a long way-first, to the ex-Soviet country of Georgia (not the place where Jimmy Carter grew peanuts). Here is a list of its Presidents after it became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union: (from Wikipedia):

List of presidents of Georgia

# Name Picture Term Took office Left office Political Party
1 Zviad Gamsakhurdia Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Tbilisi, 1988.jpg 1 14 April 1991 (Appointed) 26 May 1991 (Inaugurated) 6 January 1992 (Deposed) Round Table – Free Georgia
2 Eduard Shevardnadze Eduard shevardnadze.jpg 1 26 November 1995 (Inaugurated) 30 April 2000 Union of Citizens of Georgia
2 30 April 2000 (Inaugurated) 23 November 2003 (Resigned)
Nino Burjanadze (acting) Nino Burjanadze (Tbilisi, December 5, 2003).jpg 23 November 2003 25 January 2004 United National Movement
3 Mikheil Saakashvili Saakashvili76589.jpg 1 25 January 2004 (Inaugurated) 25 November 2007
Nino Burjanadze (acting) Nino Burjanadze (Tbilisi, December 5, 2003).jpg 25 November 2007 20 January 2008
3 Mikheil Saakashvili Saakashvili76589.jpg 2 20 January 2008 (Inaugurated) 17 November 2013
4 Giorgi Margvelashvili Giorgi Margvelashvili, President of Georgia.jpg 1 17 November 2013 (Inaugurated) Incumbent Georgian Dream

As you can see, the average length of their surnames is probably higher than that of any other country. As we will see, one African country does give them some competition. Georgia also had a long-time women’s chess champion named Nona Gabrindashvili. She was succeeded as world champion by another Georgian with the equally challenging name of Maia Chiburdanidze.

The first president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia faced a revolt which led to him being deposed and finally to his assassination and suicide or murder. Comedians in the US show “Saturday Night Live” joked that the revolt was linked to the Georgians wanting a leader with a name which could be pronounced more easily.

Arguably, the most powerful Georgian ever was Joseph Stalin or Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin (Russian: Ио́сиф Виссарио́нович Ста́лин, pronounced [ˈjɵsʲɪf vʲɪsɐˈrʲɵnəvʲɪtɕ ˈstalʲɪn]; born Ioseb Besarionis Dze Jugashvili, Georgian: იოსებ ბესარიონის ძე ჯუღაშვილი, pronounced [iɔsɛb bɛsɑriɔnis dzɛ dʒuɣɑʃvili]; 18 December 1878 – 5 March 1953) who was the leader of the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953. Also note the Georgian script which is quite unlike the Roman or Cyrillic script, though it might remind you of South Indian scripts.

India still has a Stalin who, with a lot of luck, might become Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu one day. He appears to have been born just before the original Stalin passed away.

Muthuvel Karunanidhi Stalin (Tamil: மு.க. ஸ்டாலின் Mu.Ka. Sṭāliṉ) (born 1 March 1953) is an Indian politician, better known as M. K. Stalin. He is the third son of famous politician of Tamil Nadu, Karunanidhi, and was born to his second wife, Mrs. Dayalu Ammal and was named after Joseph Stalin (who died later that week).

Stalin serves as Youth Wing President of the DMK. On 3 January 2013 M.K. Karunanidhi named him as his heir apparent, thus ending a long time confusion about who would take over the party reins after Karunanidhi’s death.

Georgia, however, faces strong competition from Madagascar, which has sometimes gone under the name of the Malagasy Republic. Here is what their Presidents have to offer:

Presidents of Madagascar (1960–Present)

(Dates in italics indicate de facto continuation of office)

Tenure Portrait Incumbent Affiliation Notes
Malagasy Republic Autonomous
1 May 1959 to 26 June 1960 Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F013783-0033, Berlin, Staatsbesuch aus Madagaskar-2.jpg Philibert Tsiranana, President PSD
Malagasy Republic
26 June 1960 to 11 October 1972 Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F013783-0033, Berlin, Staatsbesuch aus Madagaskar-2.jpg Philibert Tsiranana, President PSD Resigned and handed power to Military
11 October 1972 to 5 February 1975 Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F011092-0001, BPA, Generalstabschef aus Madagaskar.jpg Gabriel Ramanantsoa, Head of State Mil Resigned
5 February 1975 to 11 February 1975 Richard Ratsimandrava, Head of State Mil Assassinated
12 February 1975 to 15 June 1975 Gilles Andriamahazo, Chairman of the National Military Leadership Committee Mil
15 June 1975 to 30 December 1975 Didier Ratsiraka (cropped).jpeg Didier Ratsiraka, Chairman of the Supreme Revolutionary Council Mil 1st Term
Democratic Republic of Madagascar
30 December 1975 to 4 January 1976 Didier Ratsiraka (cropped).jpeg Didier Ratsiraka, Chairman of the Supreme Revolutionary Council Mil 1st Term
4 January 1976 to 12 September 1992 Didier Ratsiraka, President FNDR
Republic of Madagascar
12 September 1992 to 27 March 1993 Didier Ratsiraka (cropped).jpeg Didier Ratsiraka, President AREMA 1st Term
27 March 1993 to 5 September 1996 Albert Zafy, President UNDD Resigned
5 September 1996 to 9 February 1997 Norbert Ratsirahonana, Interim President AVI
9 February 1997 to 5 July 2002 Didier Ratsiraka (cropped).jpeg Didier Ratsiraka, President AREMA 2nd Term; from 25 February 2002 in Toamasina
22 February 2002 to 17 March 2009 Appl0405.loselesslycropped.jpg Marc Ravalomanana, President TIM In rebellion to 5 July 2002; deposed in the 2009 crisis
17 March 2009 to 25 January 2014 Andry Rajoelina 6 December 2011.png Andry Rajoelina, President of the High Transitional Authority TGV In rebellion from 7 February 2009
25 January 2014 to Present Hery Rajaonarimampianina 2014.jpg Hery Rajaonarimampianina, President HVM

Note the sad story of Colonel Richard Ratsimandrava who was assassinated just six days after taking over the presidency. But his successors have had even longer surnames. Only Albert Zafy (1993-96) is an outlier. They have French first names because of the colonial influence. There are several famous names in soccer like Didier Six and Didier Deschamps.

Let’s face it, we will have to be satisfied with our moderate contribution in the form of Narendra Damodardas Modi – and that is a triple only because of the Gujarati and Maharashtrian tradition of inserting the father’s name as a middle name. This is not generally followed in Eastern and Northern India, though generic middle names like Kumar and Chandra may be used. My father and his brother had middle names, my generation didn’t.

And I think that North Korea might as well follow a simple rule such as changing the current President’s name to King Kim III. Perhaps he will meet King Charles III or King William V one day-if no one comes from the US to interview him till then. But that trick did work with Ahmed Shah Masoud, one of Osama bin Laden’s rivals who was assassinated two days before 9/11.

(Thanks to Michael Jones, Abhishek Mukherji and others for more ideas. Some of them will appear in a sequel).

Present and past US Presidents (Updated in 2018)

First take a good look at this picture:

USPres

This picture was taken in late 1991. It shows the then President George Bush (Sr) along with all four of his living predecessors: Reagan, Carter, Ford and Nixon. All five of them have autographed the original photograph. This original, along with a certificate of authenticity, can be purchased for USD 7,500 (about INR 470,000). See below:

Presidents-5

If the incumbent President Barack Obama were to have a similar opportunity, he could also be accompanied by all four of his living predecessors. Only two of the five in the above picture survive, having crossed 90.

As of January 2015, there are four living former presidents:

President Term of office Date of birth
Jimmy Carter 1977–1981 October 1, 1924 (age 90)
George H. W. Bush 1989–1993 June 12, 1924 (age 90)
Bill Clinton 1993–2001 August 19, 1946 (age 68)
George W. Bush 2001–2009 July 6, 1946 (age 68)

Although George Bush (Sr) also had a W in his name, no one thought of calling him Dubya.

An interesting coincidence is that Carter and Bush (Sr) were both born in 1924, while Clinton and Bush (Jr) were both born in 1946. Prior to Carter, both Nixon and Ford were born in 1913.

As in the case of the British royal family, every possible bit of trivia has been teased out of Presidential history. For instance, there have been times when 5 ex-Presidents were living. The last such instance was between January 2001 (George Bush (Jr)’s inauguration and June 2004 (Reagan’s death), with Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush (Sr) and Clinton. And there have been some occasions when there were no living ex-Presidents. Obviously this was true of George Washington’s presidency in 1789-1797 but it occurred a few more times, the last occasion being between February 1973 (Johnson’s death) and August 1974 (Nixon’s resignation). A listing of the number of living Presidents and ex-Presidents at any point of time since 1789 can be seen here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Living_Presidents_of_the_United_States

Throughout the 8 years of Obama’s two terms, the 4 ex-Presidents were living. When Trump succeeded him in January 2017, Obama become the 5th ex-President co-existing with him. This is a record, though it has happened before a few times. Details can be seen from the link above.

In the US, any aspiring school quizzer worth his or her salt would have to know the names of all Presidents and their terms. By college level, they would have to know the Vice-Presidents as well. This comes in useful because there are enough obscure Presidents and Vice-Presidents to generate many questions. In connection with Vice-Presidents, Woodrow Wilson is believed to have said “There were two brothers. One went to sea and the other became Vice-President. Neither was heard of again.”

Indeed, relatively few Vice-Presidents are elected to the Presidency immediately after their Vice-Presidency. Bush (Sr) was the first to do so in over a century. Richard Nixon had a gap of 8 years before he was elected President.

Now, if you are from India, you only have a data set starting from 1947 (and 1950 for Presidents and 1952 for Vice-Presidents). See if you can recite from memory all the Presidents, Vice-Presidents and Prime Ministers (Yes, Gulzarilal Nanda also counts). Toss in the few who have been designated Deputy Prime Minister. (Not in UPA-1 or 2 or at present).