Rasheeda Bhagat

India celebrates the Maharaja’s return ‘home’

Rasheeda Bhagat | Updated on October 12, 2021

Air India New innings   -  REUTERS

Air India’s return to the Tatas’ fold has a touch of poetic justice to it. Can it turn around the bleeding airline?

For all the toxic content it generates, social media often also allows expression of spontaneous joy, approval and celebration.

Take for instance the response to the news that the Tatas were coming back to the pilot’s seat to steer the Maharaja (Air India) from turbulent currents and restore it, hopefully, to its former glory.

Industrialist Harsh Goneka tweeted a video of some Bollywood stars such as Kunal Kapoor, Richa Chadha, Jaaved Jaaferri, Huma Quereshi and other stars celebrating Tatas’ return to the national carrier by a full throated rendering of the evergreen Bollywood melody Kajra mohabbatwala ankhiyo mei aisa dala, always a song of celebration, aboard what must have been an Air India flight. Amul’s hoarding declared itself as the Maharaja of butters, with the tagline — Tata Good ‘Buy’.

My Whatsapp inbox was flooded with messages, some true, some false, of hoardings having appeared all over the country saying “Tata doesn’t always mean goodbye”, referring to the time the industrial giant was ousted from the airline that JRD Tata had started.

A plethora of wonderful illustrations and cartoons emerged on the Tata group’s return to Air India. My favourite was of course BusinessLine’s Ravikanth’s pithy cartoon of the Maharaja at an airport check-in counter, wearinghis sherwani a single and simple word: ‘Home’.

Spontaneous celebration

What was heartening to note was that in print, electronic and social media, there was a spontaneous celebration of Tatas taking over Air India in a kind of home-coming. But if you peel this onion of jubilation, it reveals an inherent respect and admiration for a vintage industrial group known for its ethics and values, for its sense of fair play and playing by the rules.

Something that cannot be said for so many corporate brands that have hogged our industrial space through manipulation, corruption and devious practice. Burgeoning market caps may make billionaires, but do they bestow respect is the moot question.

One doesn’t require a poll to gauge the popularity of the Tata group. Its charity work is legendary, but done quietly. Ask generations of Indian students who, after securing admissions to prestigious colleges in the US or UK, have knocked on the doors of the Tata Trusts at Bombay House and secured at least a portion of the tuition or hostel fees. Their hearts are filled with gratitude which has added another layer of shine to the Tata brand. The relief work the group carries out after natural disasters across India is rarely publicised.

I remember that I had to seek out one of the general managers of a Taj group hotel in Chennai, well after the event, to write about the manner in which The Indian Hotels Company, which owns the Taj hotels, had immediately swung into action after the 2005 tsunami had devastated coastal areas in Tamil Nadu. They had rushed relief material ranging from bed sheets, blankets, and truckloads of food material, and so much additional stuff, to help those whose entire belongings had been washed away by the tsunami waves.

And who will forget the unflinching loyalty that the staff of the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai showed, not abandoning their posts and standing beside their guests like iron shields during the horrific 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai? Even after Covid had ravaged India and Indians, in May 2021, Tata Steel was one of the first companies to announce that it will pay the salaries of employees who had died of Covid, along with medical and housing benefits and the children’s fees, till the employee’s retirement age of 60. Other corporates quickly followed suit.

If two words were to describe the group’s character, those are pedigree and trust. It is the latter that makes so many women, who rarely buy gold, to buy it at a Tanishq showroom, truly believing the adage that all that glitters is not gold!

Yes, the Tatas are returning home to a bleeding enterprise. But along with debts, they also inherit over 130 aircraft and trained and skilled staff. Yes, the Indian aviation market is a tough one to thrive in, but sans government interference — every PSU in India has been stifled by that abhorrent bug at some time or the other — it is possible to do so. The lean and mean IndiGo has proved that; hopefully, under the Tatas, Air India will return to profitability, and without any mean or nasty measures, one hopes. Because that is just not in the Tata DNA.

For many of us, if Vistara was the choice airline in recent times, despite its limited flights from Chennai, it will be a pleasure to return to the Maharaja… and royalty… in Indian industry.

Published on October 11, 2021

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