Editorial/ Taming of a party
Scapegoats and bhadraloks
This above all/ Gone out to lunch
People/ Jaspal Bhatti
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL/ TAMING OF A PARTY 
 
 
 
 
The Bharatiya Janata Party has mellowed. This is obvious from the announcement that it was closing the Ayodhya chapter till 2004 when the term of the present government ends. The agency for this mellowing is the logic of staying in office. The militant, and controversial, edge of the BJP’s ideology was Hindutva and flowing from it the agenda to build a temple to Ram in Ayodhya on the site of the Babri Masjid. In June 1989, at the meeting of the national executive of the BJP, the party decided to associate itself with the Ram temple movement which was being spearheaded by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. The BJP decided to ride piggyback on the VHP with an eye to the electoral dividends such a movement would bring. This goose that laid the golden eggs for the sangh parivar was killed when the Babri Masjid was destroyed on December 6, 1992. This act took the wind out of the sails of the movement and also led to large-scale communal violence. The latter development did not do the BJP any electoral good since it came very close to being identified as a party of disorder and violence. This identification threatened to erode its support base among the traders and businessmen of north India. The efforts to create a distance between the BJP, the electoral wing of the sangh parivar, and the more militant wings of the Hindutva family perhaps began from this realization. The efforts culminated when Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee became the prime minister of India at the head of a coalition, the National Democratic Alliance.

The pressures of maintaining a coalition — which initially was not too strong — and the drive to remain in office meant that Mr Vajpayee could not work on an agenda set by the BJP and its ideology. Moreover, the personality of Mr Vajpayee and his desire to project himself as the prime minister of India, rather than a mere BJP prime minister, worked towards dropping the more contentious aspects of the BJP’s programme. He began by refusing to kowtow to diktats emanating from Nagpur, the headquarters of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. He did not follow an economic policy aimed at winning the approval of the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch. The VHP and the Bajrang Dal had no influence on government policy. The decision to jettison the Ram mandir is part of a logical sequence. It could be argued that all these features of Mr Vajpayee’s policy-making are products of expediency. To some extent this is true. But this shows that the BJP has put the survival of the NDA above ideology. This by itself is an index of how much the BJP has mellowed since it was always seen as an ideologically driven party.

This perception of the BJP as rooted to its ideology is to a large extent determined by its associations. Popular disapproval of the RSS, the VHP and so on often rub off on the BJP. The BJP’s policies in government has shown that it cannot be tarred any longer by the same brush. It is the party of governance capable of being flexible and is willing to abandon ideas that are divisive. This is evidence of its mellowing and its maturity. A few years in office, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in West Bengal could have told the BJP, is a wonderful antidote to all forms of extremism.

   

 
 
SCAPEGOATS AND BHADRALOKS 
 
 
BY SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY
 
 
Though reports of the massacre outside Calcutta’s American Center studiously avoid the word, Muslim, just the names of the suspects and their alleged links with Pakistan-based terrorists suffice to feed indignant theories of communal conspiracy and bring a chunk of the city’s population under suspicion. Muslim leaders have not responded to a challenge that speaks of fraying trust, although S.M. Murshed of the administrative service’s West Bengal cadre argued in a perceptive article in 1993 that only a negligible number of Muslims had been found guilty of espionage and that Pakistan would not recruit Muslim agents in India just as India would not recruit Hindus in Pakistan.

A section of Indian — read Hindu — society instinctively looks for Muslim scapegoats. The police, India’s best-organized criminal gang according to an Allahabad high court judge, are probably foremost in exploiting popular prejudice for private gain. The sequence of convenient “encounters” and deathbed confessions has combined with inter-police one-upmanship and Indo-Pakistani rivalry for American accolades to reduce tragedy to farce with the ultimate joke of Pakistan’s ridiculously resurrected charge against Lal Krishna Advani. There can be no greater insult than this burlesque to the memory of the five young constables who were victims of a neglected outcome of Calcutta’s explosive demographic mix.

Hindus comprised 76 per cent of the population but owned 90 per cent of the investment when Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy claimed Calcutta for Pakistan. He did not see it as a Bengali city, but as an economic entity “built up largely by the resources of foreigners, inhabited largely by people from other provinces who have no roots in the soil and who have come here to earn their livelihood, designated in another context as exploitation.”

Muslims were under 20 per cent, the rest being Europeans, Anglo-Indians, Jews and Parsees. Aristocratic and upper middle class families (Murshidabad’s decaying Mughals, the descendants of Tipu Sultan and Wajid Ali Shah, the Persian Khaleelis, the Ispahanis, Dohas and similar families) could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Most Muslims probably did not own even the shacks they occupied for many zamindari clans invested in bustee property.

This is the real challenge as numbers rise, possibly to as much as 30 per cent. A higher birth rate because of resistance to family planning is one reason; illegal immigration from Bangladesh, with a Left Front minister suspected of complicity, another. What matters as much is that a multiplying community is identified with the narrow, winding lanes, dingy sheds and crumbling tenement houses of places like Beniapukur (home of Asif Reza Khan), Karaya, Tiljala, Park Circus, Chitpore and the Kidderpore dockland, a festering landscape that provided the manpower for the Muslim League’s Direct Action Day in 1946.

This “Mussulman para” breeds petty criminals, not because religion and crime overlap but because poverty goes hand in hand with illiteracy, bigotry, a readiness to be roused and anti-social activities. The antidote of jobs, schools, hospitals, houses, potable water, sanitation, electricity and, above all, equal opportunity is desperately inadequate for all communities throughout the country.

In 1962, the authorities tackled another demographic challenge by driving roads through Calcutta’s old Chinatown with its opium dens and subversive cells. There is a greater justification now for an imaginative programme of urban regeneration not to drive away Muslims (as the Chinese were driven out) but to liberate them from the clutches of mischief-makers who prey on deprivation. The brightly painted glory of brand new mosques invites suspicions about the funding.

The economics of communalism was most evident in the emergence of East Pakistan whose first act was to abolish zamindari. (West Bengal did not follow suit until the Fifties, although Congress had long been pledged to similar reform.) As A.K. Nazmull Karim, professor of sociology and political science at Dhaka University, says, the economic fall-out of two political revolutions blurred the distinction between a tiny ashraf (aristocracy) and the majority ajlaf (toilers) to give Bangladesh a new bhadralok class. Meanwhile, Calcutta’s grand Muslim families have disappeared leaving the city with perhaps half a dozen central service officers, but mainly what we call “Park Circus Muslims”.

Pakistan’s last diplomat in Calcutta rented a flat near Park Circus to be with his co-religionists. Even his mission, which Bangladesh inherited, was nearby. The location indicates a certain bonding between the subcontinent’s Islamic nations and poorer Indian Muslims. Also to be noted, Bangladesh’s so-called Biharis are really Hindi-speaking Calcutta Muslims. The Left Front’s Kalimuddin Shams is a prominent representative of this group spanning Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa’s Cuttack district, explaining Asif Reza’s connection with Aftab Ansari and murky doings in Nalanda and Hazaribagh.

Muslims complain that Hindus want to ram a uniform civil code down their throats on the specious plea that identical marriage, divorce and inheritance laws are the sine qua non of national integration. At the other extreme, with Hindus bending over backwards to flaunt their secularism, I winced to hear a well-meaning businessman tell the visiting Hurriyat delegation that he was so liberal that all his servants were Muslim. Since religion inspires politics, both groups treat Pakistan (and Kashmir) as the touchstone of Muslim loyalty, which points to the majority communalism that Jawaharlal Nehru thought the most dangerous of all.

Muzaffar Ahmed of the National Awami Party first alerted me to another trend during the Bangladesh war. He, too, had set up camp in Park Circus where the locals were thrilled with his adab, complaining that they had been forced to say “Namaskar” for more than 20 years. No one compels my former driver’s young son to say “Namaskar” and chatter away in Bengali though his father always greeted me with “Salaam” and spoke only Hindi, which he called Urdu. The Hindu-style dhoti that the Congress’s Zainul Abedin and Hossainoor Rahman, the academic, sport is also voluntary. Hinduization is nibbling at the fringes. Murshed disagrees, but Pakistani propagandists seize on innocent and unconscious instances of conformism to raise the cry of Islam in danger.

Ultimately, all such problems are of perception, and like James Baldwin, the black writer who could never tell whether the white liftman had kept him waiting because of his colour or because he was busy, no kafir can share a Muslim’s sensitivities. The 12 Muslim organizations that went to court against Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s ban on using microphones for azaan may have chosen to regard him as anti-Muslim. A Muslim journalist complained that as a Hindu I “got away” with displaying a flag of the old king- dom of Sikkim in my study, but that he would be arrested if he put up Pakistan’s flag. When the gate money for football matches went up, a Muslim police officer told me that it was a device to exclude Mohammedan Sporting supporters.

Just as only urban renewal can let the light of day into ghettoes, communication alone can break through barriers of mistrust. Communalism will continue to fester if politeness confines it to the dark. The only newspaper reference to the communal dimension of the killings I found was a mealy-mouthed admission that the Hazaribagh house where two men were shot was “predominantly inhabited by the minority community.” The majority’s duty of building bridges would be best discharged by acknowledging the challenge, admitting that the problem in most cases is alienation and not treachery and ensuring strict police and bureaucratic impartiality.

The bigger responsibility devolves on minority legislators, officials and professionals who have as little truck with the world of Asif Reza as any Hindu bhadralok. They alone can heal wounds in this catchment area for jihadi organizations. A token Muslim in Rashtrapati Bhavan or on the bench is of no use in tackling grassroots disaffection. The Left Front can — and does — ensure freedom from intimidation. But, in the end, only responsible Muslims of position can win the confidence of the “Mussulman para,” heal its wounds and protect its errant members from exploitation.

   

 
 
THIS ABOVE ALL/ GONE OUT TO LUNCH 
 
 
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
 
 
If you want to get away from the world, there is no better place to go than Goa. From Delhi it is half-way across the country. Air fares have become murderously expensive; it is cheaper to fly to Singapore or Bangkok than to distant places in your own country. It does not make sense. But then so many things in India make no sense.

On a chill, windy morning I left my home for the airport. On the way it began to rain, the first of the winter: good for the Rabi crop but not for a human in low spirits. In the crowded airport lounge the loud-speakers informed us that our flight would be delayed by an hour and half because of the weather conditions. Ultimately we did take off in heavy rain and blustery gales. It took us almost half an hour of being buffeted about to pierce through the dense clouds to emerge triumphantly into bright sunshine with the snow-white sheet of clouds beneath us. At 4 pm we thudded down the runway into a sun-drenched Goa.

I was not sure what sort of welcome awaited me at the Bogmalo Beach Resort where I had spent over 15 Christmases and New Years’ Days barring the last two years because of my wife’s illness. The hotel had changed hands three times. But the staff, most of whom I knew by their first names, had remained the same. The present owner is Ajit Kerkar, the real builder of the Taj chain of hotels. He knows more about hotels than anyone else in the business. My fears were set at rest.

To receive me was Rita Sequeira who I had known over the years. Her daughters have grown into young ladies; Rita remains the same as she was, determined never to look over thirty. With her was an attractive young woman Priya Suresh, in charge of public relations.They drove me in a fancy limousine to the entrance of the resort. Awaiting to receive me was the manager Sunil Chopra, the food and beverage manager Deepak Rai, and head chef, Subroto Roy. They were new to me. The rest; the bell captain, cashiers, barmen, waiters and waitresses were old friends.

I could sense the changes the master hotelier had brought about. Floors were being renovated. Ajit’s wife, who made such a splendid job of the interior of Taj Man Singh in Delhi, is doing the same to the resort in Goa. What most five star hotels in India often overlook is the quality of the food they serve. All menus run into many pages, but the food is uniformly second-rate. I’d much rather go to an eaterie which has very limited options and even no option at all, but what it serves tickles the palate. On the first evening I did not go beyond simple daal and rice because the rice was fragrant Basmati and the daal tastier than in any reputed roadside dhaaba. I complimented the chef and his boss. “Anything special you like?” asked Subroto Roy. “I like seafood,” I replied. “Crabs if you can get them.” The next three evenings I had fresh crab cooked in different ways. Delicious.

One morning I was sitting alone in the airy verandah gazing at the sea when Priya Suresh joined me. I thought it was an exercise in public relations. It was not. She was full of something she wanted to share with me. “You know sir, I lost my husband a few months ago. He was a helicopter pilot. His chopper went down in the sea without trace.” I commiserated with her and asked how she was coping with her loss. “I am trying to forget everything. He was only 39. He has left me with two young children to bring up.” There was not a tear in her eye: her grief was too deep for tears or she had shed all she had. “Did you seek solace in religion?” I asked. She paused before bursting out. “I lost all faith in god. How could he be so cruel to me? He slammed the door in my face. But then he opened a window. The hotel people were very kind. They pleaded with me to return to work so that I could keep myself occupied. Then I got an offer from Lawrence School, Ooty. My accommodation and my children’s education will be free. On a widow’s pension I could not have given my children good education and comfortable living. Now I will be able to do so. God takes with one hand, gives with another.” Priya is wanted at the desk; she excused herself and leaves with a smile on her face. I resume gazing at the sea. Men may come and men may go, but the sea goes on forever.

The farthest shore

There are lots of references to Coromandel and Malabar in David Davidar’s novel The House of Blue Mangoes. I was not sure if these regions had at any time clearly defined geographical limits, and from where they derived their names, and why hardly anyone uses them today. Coromandel and Malabar have musical resonance. Neither Madras, nor Chennai and Tamil Nadu have it. While Malabar has a masculine ring, Malayalam sounds like a by-product of clotted cream. And Kerala, a South Indian mispronunciation of Kerala (bitter gourd). So why have Cormandal and Malabar lost popular appeal and now appear only in names of hotels, picture houses, and drinking dens?

I put it to Vibha Parthasarathy, chairman of the women’s commission whose husband and daughter-in-law come from the region. Vibha wasn’t sure but promised to find out and get back to me. She did not. I put the same questions to the friend of my school days, Bharat Ram, who is the chairman of Coromandel Fertilisers. “I should know but I don’t,” he admitted. “But I will find out and get back to you.” He did not.

I turned to Hobson Jobson which is a treasure-house of information relating to Indian subjects. It says Coromandel is “a name which has been long applied by Europeans to a Northern Tamil country or (more comprehensively) to the eastern coast of the peninsula of India from point Calimeri (presumably Cape Comorin or Kanya Kumari) northward to the mouth of the Krishna upto Orissa.” It goes on to explain, “much that is fanciful has been written on the origin of this name.” Tod makes it Kuru-Mandala — land of Kurus. Another version is karumanal (black sand). C. P. Brown, a scholar of Telelgu was of the opinion that the word is of Portuguese origin. Yet another theory puts the origin to khara mandalam (hot country). Compilers of the dictionary believe that it derives from Choramandala from the Tamil dynasty based in Tanjore.

There is similar confusion about the origin of the world Malabar, the geographical area to which it applies, and the language spoken there. It is generally accepted to be the southern part of the western coast of India extending from Konkan down to Kanya Kumari. The Portuguese called it Malabar, its people Malaburis and their language Malayalam. They also used the word Tranquebar.

In need of a drink

A search party of soldiers from the United States of America and India went out on a manhunt to nab bin Laden. After scouring through numerous caves they came to a large bottle-shaped cavern which had an ominous lamp burning at one end. The search party geared up to capture their pray. Rifles were cocked. Machine guns straddled to shoulders and torches beamed out light. “There he is!” Roared out a dozen voices, even as they spotted a lone figure seated at a table, who was in the act of raising a half-finished bottle of vodka to his mouth. As the search party came close to the man, an Indian soldier in their midst exclaimed with appalling loudness: “Holy Cow!”
“What’s the matter?” his companions inquired.
“I know that man! It’s not Osama bin Laden!”
“Then who is it?”
“It’s … it’s… it’s Khushwant Singh!” said the Indian soldier, even as he passed out with the shock.
“What the hell are you doing here?” asked an American soldier.
“I’ve been here ever since the Russians left,” said the man, “the caves are full of it. Free vodka!”

(Contributed by Priya Nath Mehta, Gurgaon)

   

 
 
PEOPLE/ JASPAL BHATTI 
 
 
 
 

Carry on Bhatti

If you are going to San Francisco, be sure — as the songster kindly advises you — to put some flowers in your hair. If, on the other hand, you’re only going as far as Chandigarh, just carry a suitcase.

For, a gentleman called Jaspal Bhatti has turned that utilitarian, if somewhat boring tool for travel into a rakish object of desire. Earlier this week, as a run-up to this month’s assembly elections in Punjab, Bhatti stood bang in the middle of a busy market place in Chandigarh and announced the formation of his Punjab Suitcase Party. “The bigger, the better,’’ he says, pointedly referring to the carrying capacity of a case.

Bhatti, for those who came in late, is India’s only stand-up comedian. Some years ago, the 46-year-old Punjab electricity board employee — now he has his own private television company — had a couple of comic shows on Doordarshan, including the popular Flop Show and Ulta Pulta. His programme in Punjabi, called Professor Moneyplant, currently being aired on Tara Punjabi, is a hit as well. And for the last few years, Bhatti — who looks uncannily like Walter Mathau — has been appearing in Punjabi and Hindi films, the latest being the Esha Deol-Tusshar Kapoor starrer, Koi Merey Dil Sey Puchhey.

The man, however, is better known as a satirist who doesn’t tire of taking potshots at everybody in general and politicians and bureaucrats in particular. His shows, mostly short capsules, are usually a take-off on some galling but indelible aspect of Indian life. A builder in a talk show speaks at length about the exact amount of sand that a bag of cement can take. Grooms seeking dowry take part in a mela with price tags placed around their necks. And so on.

But Bhatti, more importantly, is also a lampooner of our political times. Every election, he comes out with other members of the Chandigarh-based Nonsense Club to poke fun at politicians. Several years ago, he derided the faction-ridden Akali Dal by launching the Akali Dal (Contradictions and Confusion) — a party which tomtommed its right to break the parent party into as many factions as possible. Some years ago, he mocked the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party with his Hawala Party. And the Suitcase Party, he thought, would reflect the reign of money-power in the state.

“There is a general ‘suitcase climate’ all around us. For any kind of work, all that you need is a suitcase. And in this election, tickets are going to the highest bidder,’’ says Bhatti. “So I thought, if this trend is so popular, why shouldn’t I launch a political party to celebrate it?’’

The Punjab Suitcase Party has few rules. Its motto is unambiguous — “Suitcasan di sarkar, 24 ghante khula darbar’’ (a government of suitcases; open 24 hours a day). Bhatti also told the crowd of amused bystanders who had gathered on Tuesday for its launch that the party would, in the best of Indian traditions, follow a dynastic rule. “I have made it very clear: the first five tickets are for me and my family,’’ he said.

Bhatti, however, is something of a misfit in a country that’s begun to take itself a bit too seriously. Humour, clearly, is being swept aside by the break-neck speed of a nation on the run. Film-maker Hrish-ikesh Mukherjee, whose comedies were hits at one time, made a last-ditch effort two years ago to tickle an apathetic people’s funny bone. The film flopped, prompting Mukherjee to say that he was retiring from cinema. Television, that battle-ground for mothers- and daughters-in-law, hasn’t see a decent comedy or a satire since Saeed Mirza’s Nukkad.

“I often wonder where humour has gone,’’ says Bhatti. “People keep asking me this. From a neighbour to the person at an airport check-in counter to a security guard, everybody wants to know why television has no comic shows. And I really don’t know,’’ he says.

For Bhatti, the issue is particularly perplexing, because humour is something that he has grown up with. He was in the fourth standard when he first made a roomful of people laugh. In a school play in Punjab, he was given a two-bit role, a fact that bugged the 12-year-old no end. “Baara saal’’ was all that Jaspal had to say on stage on being asked his age. The natural comic in the boy rebelled. On the day of the play, he decided to play around with his role. “Baanwan” (52), he said on stage when his turn came, much to the surprise of the crew and caste. The audience sniggered, the caste forgot its lines and the play flopped.

It was in college, some year later, that Bhatti first discovered the power of humour. He took part in a declamation contest on the role of women and started ad-libbing: “A woman’s tears are like a tidal wave. We should build a dam for her tears...’’ and so on. The college authorities stepped in and asked him to leave the stage, but the students wouldn’t let him go. Finally, Bhatti was allowed to go on. “I realised two things then,’’ he says. One, the masses loved him. And two, the authorities would always have a problem with him.

Strangely enough, even though Bhatti has been zeroing in on politicians, his shows have never met with the censors’s scissors. He, in fact, has been saying things that few can in seriousness.

Take, for instance, the accepted norm of giving and getting gifts on Diwali, a system that Bhatti believes is nothing but institutionalised bribery. One Diwali, he set up a shop in Bengali Market in New Delhi. He called it the Diwali Bribery Gift Shop, and urged passers-by to bribe somebody with a good gift. “We even had a counter where people could come and return the Diwali gifts that they didn’t like for something else,’’ says Bhatti in his usual deadpan manner.

On another occasion, when Harshad Mehta’s charge that he delivered a suitcase with Rs 1 crore to the office of the then Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, led to a national debate on whether or not it was possible to do so, Bhatti offered a simple solution. “I said, ‘let’s not waste Parliament’s time on how one crore rupees can fit into a suitcase. Either increase the size of a suitcase, or increase the denomination of notes so that they fit in with ease,’’ Bhatti says.

This time, he is focussing on corruption in Punjab. “I started the party because I thought that since everyone was looting Punjab, why should I be left behind,’’ he says.

Bhatti says he has seen people gather in the homes of candidates who are expected to win the elections. “That’s because politics is a business. You invest money now, so that you can get some good returns later,’’ he says.

Strangely, Bhatti gets away with saying all this. Perhaps it’s because the line between the facetious and the factual is a thin one. But, then, who says Bhatti is joking?

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Thank your lucky stars

Sir — Whatever his faults, Laloo Prasad Yadav definitely knows how to pull crowds with his buffoonery. Others blessed with a more serious outlook like Atal Bihari Vajpayee turn to poetry. And the less blessed politicians who know that their speeches are the perfect cure for insomnia invite celebrities to keep the crowd awake. Therefore Rajnath Singh’s effort to rope in Hema Malini to canvas for the party should not be laughed at (“Atal leads party starcast”, Jan 19). After all, even politicians have to resort to the stars, even if they are those of yesteryear, to improve their fate in the elections.
Yours faithfully,
Meraj Ahmed Mubarki, Calcutta

Order in the class

Sir — A while back, the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Uttar Pradesh announced that it had decided to reform madrasahs in the state. Although the Communist Party of India (Marxist) had protested against this decision, th Left Front government in West Bengal has done a volte face and announced that it is setting out to reform the madrasah system in the state (“Buddha does a Pervez”, Jan 25).

It is not that the CPI(M) was unaware that certain madrasahs help in spreading anti-national sentiments. Madrasahs have long been allowed to function without a regulating body. Politicians did not want to aggravate potential voters who might disagree with the decision to regulate madrasahs. It is necessary for the government to ensure that madrasahs teach only the syllabus decided on by the Madrasah Board. The chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, should not lose sleep over the loss of prospective voters. It is to be hoped that the Muslim community will not take this decision as a slight against madrasahs as Pakistan has also declared it will do the same.

Yours faithfully,
Kaustav Sinha Ray, Calcutta

Sir — It was reassuring to hear Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s decision to bring some order to madrasahs, especially those which have mushroomed on the Bengal-Bangladesh border. It speaks very poorly of the state government that it took the death of five policemen for it to adopt strict measures against errant madrasahs. Its lax attitude is shown up by the fact that the A.R. Kidwai commission has still not submitted its report on the possible reforms that can be introduced into the madrasah system. The commission took on the task a year ago.

It seems that the Students’ Islamic Movement of India, banned under the new anti-terrorism ordinance, believes that the government is incapable of implementing regulations regarding madrasahs. Otherwise, SIMI activists would not risk running a daily recruitment camp barely five kilometres from the city centre (“Simi sitting pretty”, Jan 25). Hopefully, Bhattacharjee and his party will act so that that the SIMI and errant madrasahs are forced to answer for their foolhardy behaviour.

Yours faithfully,
Uttam Kumar Guru, Midnapore

Flying low

Sir — The partial disinvestment of Air India has got no- where. One reason for prospective investors shying away could be the dismal state of the airline resulting from the bureaucracy’s mismanagement. Air India was a larger carrier in the late Sixties and early Seventies than it is today. Had the airline kept up its earlier growth rate, it would have had a fleet strength two or three times its current one and thus been able to retain its market share.

The failure of the government to expand the fleet has left Air India able to use only 45 of the 92 bilateral treaties signed. It has less than 20 per cent share of all daily traffic in and out of India. Yet, 20 years ago this figure was 44 per cent. The fleet today comprises a paltry 24 ageing aircraft. If the cost of fleet expansion is too great for a one-time purchase, Air India could add two or three aircraft annually, and double its fleet within five years. Ideally, Air India should join a global alliance and avail itself of discounts on airliner purchases apart from access to cheaper and more available spare parts, increased operational synergies and so on.

Yours faithfully,
Philip Elisha, Calcutta

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