By Binoy Viswam
Modi’s Atmanirbhar Bharat has earned one more feather in its crown. India’s national air carrier, Air India has been handed over to a private corporate, the Tata’s. Thus, the frenzied moves to sell off Air India have been successfully completed. Air India and its 125 aircrafts are now handed over to the Tata’s. Air routes operated to 103 destinations in more than 30 countries are also given to the new owners. More than 100 domestic routes to 58 centres are also surrendered. The Air traffic industry parking slots are considered most precious. Air India was having 4400 parking slots in domestic services and 1800 of them for international services in various airports inside the country. It has controlled over 900 slots in multiple international airports including New York, London, Frankfurt and Paris.
Through the sale deed all these facilities have been given to the new owners. It was a deal of 18000 crores out of which the government of India will get only 2100 crores in cash. According to the sale deed 15300 crores of the Air India liabilities will be undertaken by Tata’s. Experts in the industry opined that it was a golden catch for the corporates. Still the Atmanirbhar government is jubilant about the great accomplishment for which they have been doing overtime job since 2018.
Then the offer was to hand over 76 percent of the shares to the private owners. Swiftly the prophets of Atmanirbhar made up their mind to do away with 100 percent shares. In the 75th year of Independence the prestigious national carrier is not within the control of the government of India. Private corporates would dictate their terms on the air traffic policy which the government would put into practice. The word Atmanirbhar was attached to a different meaning in the dictionary of BJP.
Reports say that Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), an important constituent of Sangh parivar has questioned the move. But with the support of RSS, the BJP government is in no mood to listen to any critics including those from their own parivar. The 12000 odd employees of Air India and 1400 employees of Air India Express have no idea about their disturbed future. They are offered with VRS after one year. The nature and conditions of the VRS will be ultimately decided by the new owners.
The fixed time employment scheme is already implemented in the Alliance Air, which is said to be a subsidiary of Air India. Service conditions and job security of the employees will become a matter of the past. The plight of the Jet Airways and its employees are before the country to understand the corporate approach to the workers problems. The far-reaching impact of privatization vis a vis the labour rights is a concern of great significance. Nobody knows how the leaders of the BMS would answer the questions raised by their own members and supporters.
The story of Air India according to the BJP government is a pointer to the inevitable failure of the public sector. That argument is obediently propagated by the policy makers of the NITI Ayog school and their cronies in the corporate media. They purposefully close their eyes towards the numerous success stories of the public sector including the ONGC and LIC. AIR India itself was running on profits for several decades. Even in 2001-03, when the global Air industry was in total crisis, the audit rating of Air India was ‘very good’.
In 2015-16 it achieved a working profit of 105 crores and the company estimated 300 crores profit for 16-17. At this point of time, the Modi government mooted the idea of privatization for ‘Atmanirbhar sake’! Parliamentary Standing Committee in 2018 rejected the idea of Privatization and came out with certain proposals for the effective functioning of Air India. By that time the Modi government was absolutely committed to the market driven idea of privatizing everything under the sun. A government controlled by the boundless greed of exploiters wanted to find out the reason for killing the public sector. Air India’s liabilities are the net result of mismanagement and political corruption. Even at the zenith of loss-making Prime Minister Narendra Modi wanted Air India to purchase two more aircrafts spending crores of rupees for the exclusive use of VVIPs.
Sale of Air India suggests the direction of the Modi government’s concept of nation building. It is not only the economics of the deal that matters, the politics and the philosophy is to be encountered. A government talking too much about national pride on the roof top has no hesitation to hand over the flag of the national carrier to a corporate house. Coupled with the monetization moves such an act has wider meaning. The primary concern of the government is to protect the interests of the big business.
To reach that goal the Modi government is willing to go to any extent. Not only Air India or airports, seaports or banks, ISRO or insurance- every segment of national importance will be placed for auction, and they name it national pride. If this is national pride, a proud Indian may ask what is the meaning of nation for BJP? Profits or people? For every true Indian, people are the soul of the nation. For Modi and his government, profits of the corporates are the ultimate concern. Goodbye to the Maharaja of Air India! (IPA Service)