Saturday, April 30, 2011


The officer who called me is tasked to protect our borders from external threat. As Delhi boils in 40 degrees Celsius temperature, he guards our frontiers in sub zero temperatures even today. With great difficulty he manged to get 15 days off from his Commanding Officer to help his daughter with her admission and his father with his operation. But will the national carrier Air India fly him home?

With more than 800 pilots on strike demanding a salary much higher than the Rs 3.65 lakh per month they get, he is not too sure if he will get home in time. The officer desperately trying to reach Delhi - cannot extend his leave from 15 days to 16. He does not have the luxury of going on strike demanding additional leave, more family time or a higher pay packet. That's a luxury only Air India pilots can afford in today's day and age where the airline industry is desperately trying to take off again post slump.

Air India got Rs 2,000 crore of the tax payers money post merger. Today its losses stand at a staggering Rs 16,000 crore and mounting. Air India officials say they incur a daily loss of Rs 21 crore and the strike has increased it by Rs 4 crore every day. So Air India bleeds the nation by Rs 25 crore per day.


For JRD Tata, Air India was his baby.Nurtured with love, care and affection. It is not without reason when he was the chairman (took only Re 1 as salary) Air India was considered among the top 5 airlines of the world.In his times, Air India was the nation's pride.

Today Air India is national shame. And its pilots are perhaps hammering in the last nail in the coffin. The Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) claims they are fighting corruption and gross mismanagement by AI's CMD Arvind Jadhav. They claim he is bleeding the airlines to death and benefitting private players.They want a CBI inquiry into the mismanagement of Air India.

With due respect, isn't this exactly what the pilots are doing - bleeding the airlines to death and benefitting the private airlines.So are they not as guilty if not more than the management.

When the ship is sinking all hands are on the deck trying to save the ship.Not like pilots making more holes in the ship and blaming others for the sinking ship. From one of the best airlines in the world, Air India has now plumetted to number 4 position even within India behind Jet,Kingfisher and Indigo.

A section of Air India pilots celebrated the fact that Jet and other pilots were supporting them. Why not - with Air India pilots on strike - other airlines have increased their fares and are raking in the moolah. Why should they not want a longer strike. 150 of Air India's 200 domestic flights stand cancelled. Who benefits? other private players. Why should they not encourage Air India pilots to fight for higher pay packets while the private players drive Air India off the map.Once Air India was considered most reliable. Now some travel agents are telling potential fliers to spend a little extra and book with private airlines. At least they don't strike and travellers will reach their destination.

The timing of Air India pilots strike is also curious. April last week. Just when summer vacation is about to begin and most families have either booked or are in the process of booking their tickets. If pilots thought public pressure would force the government to act - they could not be more wrong. The public is so angry that they'd rather see Air India shut down rather than have another bail out for the airlines in red at the tax payers' expense.


Do you feel a sense of pride when you hear the name Air India?
Is Air India your preferred Airline when you fly domestic or international ?
Does Air India inspire confidence internationally as a brand name ?

If the answer to all of the above is no - it is time to shut down Air India. An Airline that does not take pride in its name, where employees are not struggling to keep it afloat and where the pilots and the management are on a Kamikazi mission does not deserve India in its name. India is a name I am proud of.

The pilots appear to be selfish, self centered, cribbing lot of have alls crying for even more when the airlines is in the red. I do not agree with civil aviation minister Vylar Ravi when he says the pilots are only 10+2 and crying for more when they earn at least 3.65 lakh a month. I could have forgiven a 10+2 for holding the nation to ransom. How do I forgive a group of 800 professional pilots - including 200executive pilots who have flown all across the country - some across the world - know ground realities and yet behave like spoilt rotten rogues.


Vylar Ravi looks really angry on television as he tells pilots to return or face disciplinary action.Air India has sacked 6 pilots and suspended another 4. Of the 800plus pilots who are running Air India to the ground, action has been taken against 10.Is that enough?

In the past pilots have been sacked and suspended for a number of reasons when on strike. But they were reinstated later. Did the pilots lose anything? no. Did the management lose anything? no. Who lost? Well Air India lost its name and the nation its prestige. Of course you and I as taxpayers are the ultimate losers.

The pilots once sacked from Air India can join any of the private sector airlines, fly chartered planes or fly abroad. But this time the sacked pilots should lose their licence to fly. Let them know they cannot hold the nation to ransom. Again and Again.


The Air India management and the government are perhaps as guilty as the striking pilots if not more.Why did Air India stop flying on 32 profitable routes including Chennai-Colombo and Gulf in the past couple of years. Who insisted on the merger that benefited the private airlines, especially on the Gulf route paving way for the second airline to operate on the route.

On what grounds has the management and government promised to look into the ``legitimate demands'' of Indian Airlines pilots on pay parity with Air India pilots. How can you compare apples and oranges?Air India pilots fly longer routes, bigger aircraft, longer can salaries have parity?

Why were domestic flying hours reduced drastically for Indian Airlines pilots? Why are private airlines growing at the cost of Air India? The management and the government need to explain why losses that stood at Rs 447.93 crore (Air India) and Rs 240.29 cr (Indian Airlines) shoot up to Rs 16,000 crore post merger?

Why was a decision to purchase 111 aircraft for Air India - international and domestic cleared when proper home work was not done on debt servicing, use of aircraft and requirement.

Experts say there has been no accountability in the functioning of Air India management and the government too. Pilots alone cannot be blamed. I completely agree with the pilots that there should be a CBI inquiry into the functioning of the national carrier and strict action be taken in a time bound manner against the guilty.


A lot of what is happening - from covert threats of a lockout to overt calls for talks are all `tamasha' for public consumption. If one goes by past cases, sacked pilots have no reason to worry. Sooner than later talks will be fruitful and there will be those Kodak moments, all smiling photo opportunities and once agin it will be business as usual.

Except you and I perhaps would be forced to bail out Air India once again. Another multi thousand crore bailout. Pilots without working would have got a massive salary hike. With 1600 pilots getting a salary hike the remainder of the 14,000 Air India work force will threaten or actually go on a strike demanding parity and a raise. Another strike and another bail out.

Private airline owners will laugh all the way to the banks and you and I...the aam aadmi will be left wondering why despite paying such high taxes India remains a poor third world country.

This time when the nation is actually standing up to corruption - let there be a transparent probe into allegations of corruption in Air India. Let those who have played an active role in running the airline to the ground be jailed. Let pilots show commitment work without a raise - lift the airlines out of the red and soar into the blue skies. Money will follow.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Anna Effect: My Jantar Mantar Diary

A driver in the Indian army during the 1965 Indo-Pak war in the Khemkaran sector, is today the General of the peoples army fighting the war against corruption.
He has taken the nation by storm. From five year old class one students to those in the twilight of their lives, were all at Jantar Mantar to see a movement take shape. The government initially did not realise the gravity of the situation. Such a movement had been initiated once earlier.A similar battle cry had been sounded. But that time the movement did not succed. This time it did - at least so far. SUPER SHOCKING SCAMS But that time nobody was talking about the Rs 1,76,000 crore 2 G spectrum scam, Rs 70,000 crore rupee Commonwealth Games Scam, the Adarsh Scam, the Antrix deal and a ``clean'' prime minister presiding over what was seen as one of the most corrupt ever establishment. Union Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal saying with a straight face that there was no scam in 2G spectrum allocation angered the man on the street.For the aam admi prices of food, vegetables, fruits, education - daily life - spiralling out of control was a scam. The government seemed unresponsive, at least ineffective. Anna Hazare's call to combat corruption struck a chord in perhaps every heart and people came out of their homes. Media has been `blamed' for egging Anna Hazare on. Especially television media. For beaming pictures of the protest and Jantar Mantar and ``breathlessly creating a frenzy.'' The Congress party went on record to say they respected Anna's cause but not the course. Now that was a bit confusing. A fast unto death was the course that Mahatma Gandhi, father of the nation took recourse to. There was no violence - no bloodshed and the only person punished was self. Yet the Congress did not agree with the course. WITNESSING HISTORY I was at Jantar Mantar every day. Saw the crowds build up - from a couple of hundred the first day to several thousand on day 4. I met school children (class IV to XII) impressionable age - they had been brought there by their teachers to learn first hand the Gandhian form of protest. Peaceful non violent fast. Children were ecstatic they were seeing history being made. One school teacher (prestigious Delhi missionary school) told me she had learnt about Gandhi only from books but her students were luckier to see it first hand. A Lesson they would never forget. ROLE OF REFORMERS A heated debate started at Jantar Mantar and in television studios the day Yog Guru Baba Ramdev sat on the platform next to Anna Hazare whether Gurus and Sants should be sharing that platform. What was unique about this protest at Jantar Mantar was the fact that every evening there would be a sarv-dharm sabha. A vedic prayer, the Gurbani, a sermon and reading a verse from the Holy Koran. It had a calming effect. We are a secular nation after all and religion plays a crucial role in our lives. Should the Babas, maulvis, Padris and Granthis have been there? My take: India has a history of Sants, Gurus, Mahatmas and teachers spearheading change. Maharshi Vishwamitra, Chanakya, Samarth Guru Ramdas, Swami Dayanand, Swami Vivekanand...the list is endless. Their role in history has not been confined to religious preaching but extends to nation building. BLAMING TV MEDIA To say TV led and `fomented' this movement is insulting not only Anna Hazare but the intelligence of the people of this country. This was perhaps a spontaneous outburst of peoples pent up anger and frustration. TV reported it - constantly - because there was interest in it. The number of people who called to ask how Anna Hazare was, how they could help, should they be at Jantar Mantar or in their own neighbourhoods...Each day the crowds swelled - not just in Delhi, Mumbai and other metros but even in smaller towns across the country. Tushar Gandhi in an interview to Headlines Today asked if the crowds were there because of the media - to appear on TV? My reading - majority were there to be a part of a process trying to improve the nation's future and fight corruption. WRONG PRECEDENT BEING SET? Well respected journalists and columnists have commented on TV journalists reporting and almost egging on the movement not realising its harmful aftereffects and side effects. I think for 60 years we have suffered this corruption and each year the problem becomes bigger and bigger. While I totally agree it is for the lawmakers to make laws but when they don't for 42 years, should we just wait another 42 years. This is an experiment. Instead of being cynical and saying it is bound to fail without even giving it a shot - lets push for it. If it fails there is not much to lose -after all for 42 years all other efforts have failed. And then the government can put on its most holier-than-thou mask and say we told you so - leave governance to us. But to pan it without trying it - almost echoes a politician's take - who are mighty alarmed being under the microscope even if briefly. Another Congress party spokesperson said today it is Anna Hazare tomorrow it can be the Jats and the Gujjars who would want a notification and civil society -govt joint drafting committee and cite this case as a precedent. Well, if jointmanship can bring better laws why not. And for anyone else to make such demands they would first have to reach Anna Hazare's stature. After all Jats protested earlier too and did we see the entire nation rise with them? Did we see one of the most well respected Indians - metroman E Sreedharan join them? Did we see CEOs, COOs and head honchos of top companies join the movement? ROLE OF TWITTER/FACEBOOK Tremendous. Much more than expected.And will have a bigger impact in the times to come. This is power to the people. The aam admi is the journalist. Your mobile phone is the camera and you are the journalist. The so called mainstream media follows social media - tweets, facebook updates, youtube. And in the times to come the role will only grow. But as J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted - with power comes responsibility. Will this street power prove to be responsible and actually bring about a positive change after camera have moved to the next big story? My take: awareness level has increased. THE ANNA EFFECT In Mumbai, a government servant was beaten up by a mob and handed over to the police for demanding an accepting a bribe from a tea shop owner. The official demanded Rs 25,000 as bribe, as the news report said. The poor tea stall owner managed to just arrange the instalment of Rs 2,000. As soon as the money was handed over- passers by caught the official, roughed him up and handed him over to the police. That's a positive step. Not the thrashing but people coming together to combat corruption. Godwilling we shall have many more stories like this in the days, weeks and months to come. Then perhaps there will be a genuine grassroots movement to combat corruption. At India Gate (crowds lesser as Anna Hazare was not there) - I asked a group of youngsters will they go on a fast unto death for their demands - to fight for justice and corruption free society. Pat came the reply: No sir - we will starve the politicians and establishment - we will not pay bribes. If the youth actually mean this and actually do what they say - the battle is won.