It was saturday. The day before, another bidder: the billionaire Hinduja brothers – had to withdraw after the Ministry of Justice made a red flag in their offer, saying that they did not comply with the strict guidelines established by the government to participate in the privatization process. With the withdrawal of SIA, only the Tatas were left in the fray and the determined efforts mounted by the then divestment minister. Arun shourie Collapsed.
Years passed. Political opposition, vested interests and bureaucratic lethargy impeded any effort to sell off the deficit giant. The airline continued to accumulate debt and services plummeted.
In 2017, Niti Aayog was asked to prepare a list for the privatization of state-owned companies. A senior official from the government’s policy think-tank spoke to TOI. Several times during the interaction, the official said why Air India should be sold. But he never categorically mentioned that any recommendation had been made. After debating for a long time. We decided to move on with the story.
A few months later, in May 2017, the then Minister of Finance Arun jaitley, while participating in a Doordarshan program titled ‘Teen Saal Modi Sarkar’, revealed that the government was planning to privatize Air India. Jaitley said that in 1999-2000, during his brief stint as divestment minister, he had said: “Please divest Air India, otherwise there will be nothing left to divest.”
Jaitley then went on to say that the government was open to the idea of bringing in a strategic partner for Air India and that the civil aviation ministry was exploring all possibilities. It was ‘breaking news’, as they say. Soon, the process began to sell 76% in Air India, Air India Express and AISATS. But eventually no bidders emerged, as investors had no appetite for an airline in which the government still had some stake.
Finally, a third attempt to sell the airline was launched in 2019. The government made it clear that it wanted to exit the airline 100% and also sweetened the deal to make it attractive to investors.
That sums up the more than two decades of twists and turns in the Maharaja’s journey to escape closure. But he racked up a mountain of debt. Now, the government was finally able to sell the airline. Have a safe flight with your new owners and old colleagues, Air India