Hilal Ahmad Rather (right, in uniform) along with Indian ambassador to France Jawed Ashraf
NEW DELHI: When India’s first batch of five Rafale fighter aircraft took off from France’s Bordeaux-Merignac facility for India on Monday, it would have come as a “personal triumph” to Air Commodore Hilal Ahmad Rather.
Presently India’s Air Attache in France, the native of Anantnag in Kashmir has played a key role in ensuring delivery of Rafale jets to the country. Rather, son of a retired DSP, spent all of last year weaponizing the combat aircraft to suit Indian conditions. He is credited with helping the project management team add 13 fresh capabilities to the Indian version of the jet.
With the jets due to land in India on Wednesday, the 52-year-old — who also supervised refuelling training of a team of 152 IAF technicians and 27 fighter pilots with French tanks — is being hailed as a hero back home.
Junaid Ahmad, Rather’s neighbour, said he was an inspiration to Kashmiri youth. “He has made us proud,” he said. User Vijay Zutshi wrote on Facebook, “I really feel proud to know about Commodore Hilal, a man from our mohalla (colony) and town Bakshiabad, Anantnag. I wish him all the success.” Another user Anmol Pandita wrote, “God bless you in all walks of life. I’m also from Bakshiabad and remember you as DSP sahib’s son.”
As tributes poured in on social media, those close to Rather said he has had an impeccable service record. A fighter combat leader and a qualified flying instructor, Rather commanded Mirage-2000 Squadron and a front line Air Force base in Gwalior. His accident-free flying of jets like MIG 21, Mirage and Kiran was a useful experience that helped him while coordinating with the French project management team in Bordeaux over 35 advanced functions of the Rafale jet.
An alumnus of Sainik School (J &K), Rather earned a Sword of Honour — the highest award to a cadet — during his training at the National Defence Academy. An edition of an IAF gazette from a few years ago describes Rather as “the officer who consistently adopts a very systematic, fair-and-humane approach, which has improved the working culture, work environment and morale in the unit”.
A family member told TOI, “Hilal’s father was with the police in J&K when he got commissioned into the IAF in 1988. The family often faced threats and while others got married in their sprawling bungalow in Anantnag, Rather had to rent out a two-room flat in Nagrota in Jammu two days before his marriage in 1993 for safety reasons.”
Along with Rather, Indian ambassador to France Jawed Ashraf was also crucial in ensuring delivery of Rafale jets to India. The combat jets are reaching India four years after an agreement between the two countries was signed in 2016.