New bid to find buyer for Air India slammed as ‘selling family silver’

An Air India Airbus A320neo plane takes off in Colomiers near Toulouse, France. (Reuters)
Updated 28 January 2020

New bid to find buyer for Air India slammed as ‘selling family silver’

  • Indian government aims to offload entire stake in debt-ridden national carrier after failed 2018 sale attempt
  • Critics blame country’s struggling economy for decision to sell airline

NEW DELHI: Renewed government attempts to find a buyer for “debt trap” national carrier, Air India, have been slammed as “selling the family silver.”

Politicians from opposition and pro-government parties condemned the move by the Indian government to offload its entire stake in the flag-carrier airline, which comes more than a year after a failed bid to sell a controlling share.

A document released on Monday said that any bidder would have to absorb around $3.3 billion of debt along with other liabilities.

Speaking in New Delhi on Tuesday, Kapil Sibal, senior leader of India’s main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, said: “When governments don’t have money this is what they do.

“The government of India has no money; growth is less than 5 percent and millions of rupees are outstanding under several social schemes. This is what they will do, sell all the valuable assets we have.”

Derek O’Brien of the Trinamool Congress, the regional party ruling West Bengal, said in a video statement that “the government has decided to sell more family silver by selling 100 percent stake in Air India. You can well imagine how bad the economy (is).”

And on Twitter, Subramanian Swamy, parliamentarian from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said: “This deal is wholly anti-national, and I will (be) forced to go to court. We cannot sell our family silver.”

Monday’s document gave the deadline for submission of initial expressions of interest in purchasing the airline as March 17. In 2018, the Indian government tried to sell 76 percent of the carrier but got no takers.

To justify the latest sale attempt, Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, said: “Despite infusing 30,500 crore rupees ($4.3 billion) in AI (Air India) since 2012, the airline has been running into losses year after year. Due to its accumulated debt of about 60,000 crore rupees, its financial position is very fragile.”

He described the company as being in a “debt trap” but added that it could be saved through privatization. “We have learnt lessons from the 2018 bid.”

Referring to critical comments from fellow BJP members, the minister said they were expressing their “personal opinion.”

Jitender Bhargava, former executive director of corporate communication at Air India, said the current offer would attract potential buyers.

“India is a growth market, so anybody would like to be part of it and take the advantage. The acquisition of Air India provides the fastest way to become a global carrier,” he told Arab News.

According to Bhargava, the move had nothing to do with the current state of the Indian economy. “All the important international carriers want to expand their footprints in India because of the potential of the Indian market. The government has taken a pragmatic view on the sale of the national carrier,” he said.

“Ownership of the airline does not matter, leadership matters. Once it came into the hands of the government, bureaucracy killed it,” added Bhargava, who authored “The Descent of Air India” chronicling the airline’s downfall. “Air India under the government’s ownership cannot run, cannot survive.”

He predicted that the carrier would become a marginal player if there was no change in ownership.

Air India has a fleet of 146 aircraft and employs around 21,000 people. It was founded by prominent industrialist J.R.D. Tata in 1932 and nationalized in 1953.


Four killed in India clash ahead of Trump arrival

A man supporting a new citizenship law throws a stone at those who are opposing the law, during a clash in New Delhi, India, February 24, 2020. (REUTERS)
Updated 11 min 20 sec ago

Four killed in India clash ahead of Trump arrival

  • The new law has raised worries abroad — including in Washington — that Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to remold secular India into a Hindu nation while marginalizing the country’s 200 million Muslims, a claim he denies

NEW DELHI: A policeman was among at least four people killed in New Delhi on Monday during violent clashes over a contentious citizenship law, local media said, hours before US President Donald Trump arrived in the Indian capital for an official visit.
Protesters torched at least two houses and shops before later setting a tire market on fire, the Press Trust of India said. Local TV channels showed plumes of black smoke billowing from buildings.
One video posted on social media showed crowds of men shouting “Jai Shree Ram” or “Hail Lord Ram,” a revered Hindu deity, as they went on a rampage.
Protests have broken out across India since the citizenship law came into force in December, leaving at least 30 people killed in clashes with police. Critics say the law discriminates against Muslims.
The new law has raised worries abroad — including in Washington — that Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to remold secular India into a Hindu nation while marginalizing the country’s 200 million Muslims, a claim he denies.
The latest unrest erupted between several hundred supporters and opponents of the law in a Muslim-dominated area of northeast Delhi on Sunday, and continued Monday.
A constable died after receiving a critical head injury, while another senior officer was among the injured.
Local media said three civilians also died and many people were hurt.
“Please renounce violence. Nobody benefits from this. All problems will be solved by peace,” Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted.
Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia tweeted that schools in the capital’s northeast would be shut on Tuesday and exams postponed.
Trump arrived in the western state of Gujarat on Monday and addressed about 100,000 people at a rally with Modi before he visited the Taj Mahal monument in Agra.
Later Monday the US president landed in Delhi before official talks in the city on Tuesday.
A senior US official told reporters that Trump would raise concerns about religious freedom in the Hindu-majority nation during the trip, calling them “extremely important to this administration.”