The air force has launched an investigation into the circumstances under which an officer shot himself in the head after being allegedly ticked off by a three-star air marshal for poor shooting skills last week.
Wing Commander Rajesh Tiwari fared poorly during an impromptu test of firing skills conducted by Western Air Command chief Air Marshal SB Deo during an inspection visit to the Sirsa air force station, home to the air force’s Sukhoi-30 fighters.
Officers and airmen had been randomly picked for the security drill on October 25, senior IAF officers said.
IAF sources said Tiwari was hurt and disturbed about being admonished in the presence of officers and airmen. He was found dead in his official vehicle with a gunshot wound to his head the next day.
A court of inquiry was instituted into the death, IAF sources said, even as the circumstances leading to Tiwari’s alleged suicide, and whether Deo’s observations on his shooting skills triggered it, became the talking point in Indian Air Force (IAF) circles.
Deo, an accomplished fighter pilot, is known to be a “hard task master” but is regarded as “impeccably professional”, the officers HT spoke to said.
Speaking to HT, Deo said he hadn’t done anything wrong and high shooting standards were the service’s requirement and not his own.
“As a fighter pilot, I am supposed to be aggressive but there was no aggression that day,” Deo said, adding the IAF probe would find out the truth.
“But you are required to fire properly. I gave him tips on firing and asked him to practice with Garud commandos,” he said, referring to the IAF’s elite commando unit.
Security has been scaled up at air bases following a deadly militant attack on an air station in Pathankot in January, and such drills are now conducted frequently at different military bases.
Tiwari’s father-in-law CS Mishra told HT the family could speak on the matter at a later stage if it saw it necessary.
“We are still grieving and tied up with rituals. My daughter is not in a frame of mind to speak about it right now,” he said.
Senior IAF officers said there were no “major observations” by Deo on the security drill. The officers said the overall performance of the team led by Tiwari was “good” but he needed to improve his standards and was told to do so.
They said there was “no singling out” of Tiwari and three officers were asked to improve “practical firing,” with one of them being Deo’s own staff officer.
Deo too stressed Tiwari wasn’t “admonished by any stretch of imagination” and was only asked to pull up his socks.