Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Victoria's secret vs plane patriot

New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government is coming under increasing pressure from certain elements within the Sangh parivar to shake off the yoke of colonialism by dropping the "VT" prefix that all planes registered with the Indian civil aviation regulator must bear.

The question is whether "VT" stands for the Raj-era "Victoria's Territory" or Viceroy's Territory" or the neutral Victor Tango, the aviation phonetic alphabets that denote "V" and "T".

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) - the UN Agency established in the 1940s to manage the administration and governance of the Convention of International Civil Aviation (popularly known as the Chicago convention) - requires all planes to carry a distinctive set of characters that identify the nationality of the aircraft.

Planes registered in India have always carried the letters "VT". It is followed by a hyphen and three other characters that serve as a distinctive identifier of the plane.

The provenance and significance of the "VT" prefix - which some people believe stands for Victoria's Territory (a reference to Queen Victoria) and others contend actually refers to Viceroy's Territory - has been lost in hoary aviation lore but its continued use is turning out to be a red rag for all those who wish to throw out names and symbols tied to India's colonial past.

Tarun Vijay, BJP member in the upper House who has been leading a movement of sorts over the past three years to change the so-called Nationality Mark on Indian planes, told The Telegraph: "This is a serious matter and should not be left hanging. It is really intriguing that the government has not responded to my demands on this."

The issue was raked up once again today by his fellow party MP, L.A. Ganesan, who wanted civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju to certify whether VT "stands for Victorian Territory" and "if so, whether it is an insult to continue with such a practice...."

Raju, who belongs to the Telugu Desam Party, an ally of the BJP, waffled in his reply. "There is no document with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (which allots nationality signs to aircraft) to show that VT stands for Victorian Territory."

These signs were first allotted to Indian aircraft in 1929 when India was still a part of the British empire. The government insists that the VT sign does not connote anything and was randomly given.

Vijay, the BJP ideologue who was earlier the editor of Panchajanya, has been in touch with both India's high commissioner in Canada, where the ICAO is based, as well as the ICAO itself to try and crack the "mystery" that surrounds the use of the VT prefix on Indian aircraft.

The BJP is not the only party that had sought to replace the VT call sign but came up against a wall.

The Congress-led UPA raked up the issue in 2004 soon after coming to power and asked the ICAO to say what VT stood for and see whether the call sign could be changed. Five years later, it gave up after the ICAO refused to accept any of the alternatives suggested over the years.

Civil aviation ministry officials said the Indian government had tried its best to get assigned some combination of "I" for India or "B" for Bharat as nationality markers for its aircraft.

Officials said the ICAO and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which allot call signs, could not give India either of the two signs as they had been allotted to Italy (I) and China (BA).

"An attempt was made with the ICAO and, after evaluating all options, it has been decided not to replace the existing mark VT as no other code which distinctly identifies India is available," Praful Patel, the then civil aviation minister, told Parliament in August 2009.
08/08/17 Jayanta Roy Chowdhury/Telegraph