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Home > India > Business > Columnists > Guest Column > Mahesh Vijapurkar

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Jet Air issue: Raj Thackeray's word is law

October 17, 2008

What made Naresh Goyal, the Jet Airways [Get Quote] honcho, retract the orders which sacked 1,900 of the employees, cabin crew included, much against the economic considerations which led to the plan to give them the marching orders?

Was it the Indian government, which arm-twisted the operator which has the largest market share in the civil aviation sector? Unlikely, because that would have called for a massive bailout a la the behemoth banks in United States and Europe.

The government just does not have that kind of resources and the Indian flyers, even if they are a large segment, not farmers who are committing suicides, ridden in debt.

  • Crisis in the skies: Complete Coverage
  • Who really got sacked Jet staff reinstated?
  • I speculate that it was not the Union labour ministry for no one takes that entity seriously anymore, certainly not after the reforms that took place under the then finance minister Manmohan Singh in the P V Narasimha Rao's regime.

    Conscience?

    It certainly can't be Labour Minister Oscar Fernandes. He just has no idea of what to do and how to go about it. Remember his brave words and then how he ate them after the murder of the Noida-based Italian company, Graziano Transmissioni India Private Limited's CEO L K Chaudhury?

    It could well be, as Goyal himself confessed, his conscience, the conscience of a man who started his life on Rs 300 a month -- but that was not bad then, though not very good.

    One cannot ignore such generosity, for generous it was to take back the people sacked. Especially when the airline was bleeding, unable to pay the fuel bills and had to shake hands with the rival Kingfisherl to keep afloat.

    Or the muscle?

    My educated hunch is that the conscience was given a little push by Raj Thackeray, Mumbai's new man of muscle who is working to a plan to make people knuckle down and kneel.

    His assertion that if the employees were not reinstated, he would not allow any Jet Airways aircraft to take off from Mumbai's tarmac and come out of their hangers seems to have worked. So much so that the Bharatiya Kamgar Sena (BKS)'s claim that they, being the official, recognised union, had a letter of assurance from the Jet Airways management seems to have made little sense.

    After all, the employees did not flock to the Shiv Sena-run union but to Raj Thackeray despite the fact that many of the sacked employees were not Marathis. These non-Maharashtrians, going by the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, were those who came and usurped the local's share in Mumbai's and Maharashtra's economy.

    To my mind, it only means that when push comes to shove, those in search of livelihoods would go to a man who makes sure things work.

    The Jet Airways recapitulation came much before -- if the media reports are accurate -- even before Goyal and Raj Thackeray met. Goyal is supposed to have called up MNS chief and told him he would meet, discuss and explain his position.

    A six-pack party?

    It is not easy to set off the economic consideration, the savings by trimming the flab, does not square off with the potential losses if Raj Thackeray were to have carried out his threat.

    The aircraft are in secure areas and are not like buses that ply on the roads. Or shop fronts which have tempting glass to break because of a hurled stone.

    Development points to the emergence of Raj Thackeray as the man whose word is law. Remember, bigwigs had to meet him and public apologies tendered before Drona, starting Abhishek Bachchan could come to the silver screens in Mumbai theatres?

    Obviously, Raj Thackeray's muscle has replaced the atrophied sinews of the Shiv Sena founded by his uncle Bal Thackeray. It was once thought, and rightly so, that the senior Thackeray's party alone was the six-pack kind. Raj Thackeray, it would seem, now does not have to take to the streets himself but his cadre is there, ready to take on any target. Only Raj Thackeray has to ask that it be done.

    He 'did no wrong'

    Coincidentally, this comes close on heels of an affidavit by the Mumbai Police's KL Prasad who once said that Raj Thackeray did not own Mumbai by any hereditary right. Mumbai kisi ke baap ka nahi hai, he said then. And in the court, he said there was no actionable crime by Raj Thackeray on the issue of English and Marathi signage of shops. He wanted them in Marathi and his uncle's part had said it was being done.

    Now that even the Mumbai Police has recapitulated, Raj Thackeray's muscle can flex and secure a lot more outcomes. He takes over where his uncle left off, and left the reigns to the son Uddhav Thackeray.

    While this points to a weaker Sena -- it did not even have the prescience or the analogous cognition -- to beat the drums that it had indeed secured the promise of retraction from the Jet Airways given in writing to the Sena, if the BKS's claims were indeed genuine. Not good portents for the Shiv Sena.

    Softer now

    It does not mean that the Sena is done for. Far from it, actually. It means that the battle for the turf between the cousins only gets more serious, especially after the way the Shiv Sainiks even refused to react to such suggestions as Narayan Rane's public statement that the ailing, physically weakened Bal Thackeray who needed men-as-props to come to the stage on Dussehra day's annual rally of the Shiv Sena. Bhujbal, another former Shiv Sainik, like Rane, called him 'old' on his birthday rally.

    Not to the streets anymore?

    There was a time when a single such word would have been seen as pejorative by the Shiv Sainiks would have stormed the streets to hold the city to ransom. That seems to be a thing of the past; it seems as if the Shiv Sainiks have softened. Or much worse, have a leadership which calls for such 'to the streets, boys!' action.

    If the Sena's leadership does not want to use such strong arm, violent tactics, it is indeed good, for Mumbai has been in their thrall for decades. But the point here is that one is being replaced by another who has developed his own six-pack political anatomy.

    It could mean Raj Thackeray benefits, but is it Mumbai's gain as well? Absolutely not.




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