Three-way tussle over ‘The Descent of Air India’

Veena Venugopal New Delhi | Updated on January 17, 2014

Author says he has evidence to substantiate claims made in the book

How do you give a new lease of life to a three-month old book? By cancelling its publication, of course. And if you want to further pique potential readers’ curiosity, promise to destroy the remaining copies and take out an advertisement in newspapers saying so. The tussle between former Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel, publishing company Bloomsbury India and its author Jitendra Bhargava is likely to end with only one winner – the book, The Descent of Air India.

In 2013, Bhargava, a former Executive Director of Air India, wrote a book about the string of decisions that led to the felling of the state carrier. The UK-based publishing company, Bloomsbury, which set up its India operations in 2012, signed it up and the book was launched in October 2013. On reading it, Patel filed a case in the Mumbai metropolitan magistrate's court, seeking its cancellation by citing that several parts of the book were embarrassing to him. Last week, Bloomsbury India decided to cancel the book. On Wednesday, it also released an advertisement in some national dailies apologising for the embarrassment the book caused and said copies of the book would be destroyed.

Bhargava wasn’t amused. He accused the publisher of taking this decision without consulting him. As the author, he continues to fight the case. “This is their (Bloomsbury’s) decision. I stand by my book. I have enough documentary evidence to substantiate everything that is written in the book. I am happy to share this evidence – both with the court as well as anyone else who might be interested,” he told Business Line.

“The book was published. Then it was reprinted. Where is the question of the veracity of the facts of the book?” he asked.

Other issues

Among many other issues in the book, Bhargava pans the then Chairman of Air India, V. Thulasidas, along with Patel, for their decision to place an order for a large number of aircraft. Bhargava points out the discrepancy that this purchase decision was taken by a technical sub-committee and was only endorsed by the Board. This and various other “revelations” about how Air India was run ruffled many feathers.

While Patel was not available for comment, sources close to him rubbish Bhargava’s criticism by pointing out that his decisions when he was the civil aviation minister were made on the basis of best executing the mandate that was given to him. Despite stiff resistance from the Airports Authority of India, the unions as well as the Left parties, Patel managed to hand over the Delhi and Mumbai airports to private hands. These weren’t decisions that could be made without fear of controversy or allegations of wrongdoing, a source said.

Bloomsbury India is not willing to comment about whether there were lapses in their editing and fact-checking process. Mahendra Lodha, CFO, Bloomsbury India, merely said: “Our decision, to cancel the book and apologise to the minister, was based on the matter of the legal proceeding. After the public apology we published, our name has been dropped from the case. The matter continues to be sub judice between the author and the minister.”

The copyright of the book is with him, claims Bhargava, and he will decide on its future. While it might take some time to find another publisher to re-print and market the book, the author is looking to quickly distribute an electronic version of it.

Reader interest

In the meantime, the advertisement and the news reports about the cancellation of the book have led to a surge in interested readers.

On Bhargava’s Facebook page, he is beseeched by not just for requests for copies of the book, but also by the clamour suggesting that he join the Aam Aadmi Party and take up the issue of corruption in the public sector behemoth.

Published on January 17, 2014

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