By Shubhabrata Bhattacharya
The spat over the behaviour of an Honourable Member of Parliament on board a Pune-Delhi flight of the national flag career, Air-India, which is also referred to as “Maharaja”(the original symbol of the airline)has raised serious issues of governance and propriety. Chairman of Air-India,Ashwani Lohani, recipient of the gfiles Good Governance Award in 2014,has acquitted himself well : he has withstood pressure and stood by his staff in a rare show of competence and uprightness in the annals of the Public Sector.
In the midst of the crisis, which was handled with deftness by the Union Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapati Raju and his able deputy, Jayant Sinha, a rather unusual statement emerged from the spokesperson of Shiv Sena,the party to which Ravindra Gaekwad, the Lok Sabha MP in the eye of the storm, belongs.Sanjay Raut,who besides being the Shiv Sena spokesperson is a Rajya Sabha MP and executive editor of the Sena publication, Saamna, questioned the “auqat”(satus) of Ashwani Lohani.
To begin with, the “auqat” of Chairman of a premier PSU like Air India is established beyond doubt.Ashwani Lohani adds to the stature of the position he occupies by his accomplishments as well. He finds mention in the Guinness Book of World Records for having put back on steam the Indian Railways oldest locomotive, Fairy Queen. He gave a new paradigm to the “incredible India” tourism initiative while serving as chairman of the Madhya Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation which triggered his appointment as Chairman of India Tourism Develoment Corporation. His track record in these jobs and efficiency as an Engineer in the Railways catapulted him to his present job in Air-India which has shown definite signs of a turnaround during his tenure.
Besides, the Institution of Engineers, India ,recognizes Lohani’s excellence in four streams of engineering: Mechanical, Electrical, Metallurgical as well as Electronics&Telecom–a rare feat for a technocrat. To question his “auqat” therefore is clearly untenable.
The Gaekwad spat saw Shiv Sena MPs,who belong to the ruling NDA, challenge the rules of coalition politics. Even an union minister tasked with presiding over Maharatna PSUs, who hails from the Sena, crossed sword with his cabinet colleague, the Civil Aviation Minister on the floor of parliament. Ashok Gajpati Raju ,who belongs to another NDA ally,Telugu Desam Party, exhibited his political lineage while politely but firmly withstanding pressure from Shiv Sena. Scion of the erstwhile Royal family of Vizianagram, Raju has impeccable political moorings–his father P.V.G.Raju was a leading parliamentarian in the 1960s and the 1970s.Minister of State for Civil Aviation,Jayant Sinha, who migrated from a lucrative corporate career to follow his father, Yashwant Sinha’s footsteps and joined politics ably aided his senior minister in upholding the dignity of the PSU.
The lack of respect for PSU top brass exhibited during the Gaekwad spat is symptomatic of the fetters the political class seeks to put around PSUs ,in total disregard of the norms of economic reform. Air-India and other PSUs are expected to perform on a level playing field while the atmosphere is skewed against their autonomy by the political class who deem the Public Sector to be fiefdom. Talent cannot be attracted to PSUs from the private sector because no self-respecting technocrat would like to be questioned about “auqat” a la Lohani.
While the ministers in the Civil Aviation Ministry and the Air-India chairman battled the odds,it was pathetic to see the lack of mobilisation among the airline staff. In the past such behaviour by the high and mighty, including the boast that an airline manager has been subjected to bashing with shoes would have drawn protest from the unions. And to add to the woe there are reports that when Gaekwad was leaving the Parliament House during the imbroglio some people who had sought visitors’ pass to witness the proceedings of the House approached him for selfie.
Eulogizing odd behaviour by public at large and lack of organisation among PSU employees does not augur well for good governance.
(Writer is former Editor Sunday, National Herald)