From paper airplane to secret project: Behind Congress’ Rafale protest

At the recent protest held in Connaught Place, Congress workers led by Maken carried plastic balloons shaped like airplanes, to suggest a link between Rafale and “inflated” cost.

Written by Abhinav Rajput | New Delhi | Published: September 12, 2018 1:27:33 am
The Congress protest in Connaught Place on Saturday. (Amit Mehra)

On August 25, Delhi Congress president Ajay Maken addressed a press conference alongside Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee president Sunil Jakhar alleging corruption in the Rafale deal. During the briefing, he made an airplane from a piece of paper in front of him and jokingly said, “Isse zyada nahi udega Rafale (the plane won’t fly more than this).”

As images from the press conference went viral, another idea was born, which found expression during a Congress protest on September 8. At the recent protest held in Connaught Place, Congress workers led by Maken carried plastic balloons shaped like airplanes, to suggest a link between Rafale and “inflated” cost.

“I knew Vishwa Bandhu Gupta, who was in the business of making prototypes from balloons, so I asked him if we could make a prototype of Rafale,” Maken told The Indian Express. Gupta, a Rajya Sabha MP from Congress from 1984 to 1990, now heads Bandhu Aerospace Private Limited — a company founded in 1980 that has worked closely with the Congress to help make a 65-feet Mahatma Gandhi balloon for his 125th birth anniversary; a balloon of the Delhi Metro for its launch; and one of Taj Mahal with Urdu manuscript written over it.

“During the Kargil war, we made a Delhi-Lahore bus turned upside down, as a jibe at Vajpayee’s policy on Pakistan,” said a member of the company. A senior Congress leader said they wanted to keep the Rafale balloon project a secret till the protest — not an easy task since the company is located at Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, in the midst of several media houses.

“Whenever senior Congress leaders, including Maken, would go there, people would ask why,” he said. “The main challenge here was that unlike prototypes of the Metro or Taj Mahal, where people had already seen the thing and even a slight resemblance would do, this time we needed to be precise. So we gave a 3D image to our workers to make an exact drawing, and the project was started. The first prototype was completed in six-seven days,” said Gupta.

Three days before the protest, the party did a “trial run” at its office at DDU Marg and found a problem. “When we placed it on an auto, we saw that because the base was straight, it looked like a dolphin and not a Rafale, as the wings and missiles underneath were not visible,” said a Congress leader. So the base was changed to cylindrical with a tilt on one side. Fifteen such prototypes were then used for the rally.

The party has now given the balloons to district level workers, who take it to assigned areas. “Lots of children come out to see what it is. So we are able to register in people’s minds what we are trying to say,” said Maken.

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