EXCLUSIVE: Meet the real Sanjeev Kohli who clears the air on ‘Airlift’

After NewsMobile reported the story on why India’s former Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and MEA was upset at the movie Airlift, for not accurately portraying the role of the ministry the story went viral.

Read here: NewsMobile ‘Airlift’ story that has gone viral

Meet the real 'Airlift' hero MEA's sanjeev Kohli

Posted by Saurabh Shukla on Friday, 29 January 2016

Now for the first time one of the key protagonist Sanjeev Kohli, portrayed as a helpless Joint Secretary in the MEA has spoken out for the first time. From the reel to the real, the truth is that there is a real Sanjeev Kohli in the Ministry of External Affairs. An Indian Foreign Service officer of the 1988 batch who is now High Commissioner designate to New Zealand who has been flooded with calls and messages since the movie hit the screens.

In Pictures: The Real Airlift

Kohli played by actor Kumud Mishra in the film Airlift, dispels a lot of theories about the lack lustre performance of the Ministry, “We had orders from Delhi not to leave till the last Indian had left, and we did it despite limited resources,” he told NewsMobile in an exclusive interview.


The Real story:

Kohli known in the ministry as a quiet performer who has served in Kuwait, Moscow and Qatar and is now a Joint Secretary in MEA headquarters in Delhi, was a young third Secretary in the Indian mission in Kuwait when Saddam Hussain’s Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait on 2nd August 1990. “It was a traumatic time we were completely stuck without any communication link, it was about ten day later that we set up a communication link with great difficulty, but we never fled the country,” Kohli says. In the movie, the Indian diplomats desert the mission with a lone staffer telling Akshay Kumar that all diplomats had left.


The Real story:

The Joint Secretary in a government setup exercises tremendous powers and a head of a division could have persuaded the Ministry to act swiftly in times of a crisis and the usual channel of communication is the Secretary West or the Foreign Secretary. In this case, Kohli happened to be posted in Kuwait and was tasked by the Ministry to be in the front line of the evacuation. “We spent over 50 days in a beaten down room above a tea shop on the Jordon-Iraq border till every bus carrying Indian evacuees left, with a handful of staff we managed to evacuate and facilitate their return to India, I do recall Mr Mathew was on one of the last buses, “ he says. Akshay Kumar plays the role of Ranjit Katiyal based on an Indian based in Kuwait, Sunny Mathew.

In Pictures: The Real Airlift

The Reel Story: No one from the Indian Government helped the stranded Indians in Kuwait

The real story:

Kohli told NewsMobile, “The Iraqi government ordered the mission to be closed down, we all left leaving everything behind just carrying a suitcase to Basra in Iraq, infact every day two Indian officials were sent from Basra to Kuwait to help the stranded Indians in Kuwait,” he said.

Following the NewsMobile story, the MEA also reacted and expressed its reservations on the movie, and some senior diplomats in email conversations even want all MEA officials to boycott his movies, that is a bit extreme.

Also Read: Inside Air India One: The jet setter PM’s home in the skies

While the movie Airlift is a tremendous effort by Akshay Kumar, after his realistic portrayal of an Indian Spy operation in Baby, and that of a fake CBI officer in Special 26, Airlift does score on creativity but failed in research missing out on important factual points which would have helped the movie.

In Pictures: The Real Airlift

While the Indian system may not tom tom facts, the reality is that as evident on the Kuwait evacuation and more recently operation Raahat in Yemen, India does care about its citizens in distress, these evacuation missions was made possible only with a coordinated response of the MEA, Intelligence Agencies, Ministry of Defence and Civil Aviation and Air India, which ensured that Indians in distress get back safely to their homeland.

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