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Can Murari Lal Jalan revive Jet Airways?

By Anjuli Bhargava
December 08, 2020 09:40 IST
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For Jet's revival, Mr Jalan should be on the scene long enough for everyone to get to know him, appreciate his skills, and not vanish into thin air within a matter of months or even weeks, observes Anjuli Bhargava.

Photograph: Kind courtesy Murari Lal Jalan/ Facebook
 

For over a month, India's aviation sector has been full of excitement with news of the latest grand entry into the arena: Murari Lal Jalan, the man who is leading the charge to revive India's most loved private airline Jet Airways, which downed shutters in April last year.

There have also been reports that the Kalrock-Murari combine is looking to hire three industry veterans -- former IndiGo president Aditya Ghosh, IndiGo Chief Operating Officer Wolfgang Prock-Schauer, and IndiGo head of strategy and revenue Sanjay Kumar.

From newspaper reports, I learn that Mr Jalan is a Dubai-based businessman with truly varied interests such as paper trading, mining, fast-moving consumer goods, photo equipment, residential properties, five-star hotels, health care and perhaps a few others I may have missed.

The one sector in which he doesn't seem to have any expertise so far but now has a chance to develop some is aviation.

So, according to the grapevine, we should soon have Mr Jalan in our midst and officials of the ministry of civil aviation -- many of whom have been busy trying to establish his credentials and decipher what exactly is going on -- can get to know him first hand.

After all, he's promising to revive the airline that most Indians took a lot of pride in, since the national carrier fell vastly short of their aspirations and expectations.

Call me a sceptic or a cynic but I still have very little faith in this entire revival plan although it's been in the news for weeks on end.

The worry, therefore, remains that Mr Jalan should be on the scene long enough for everyone to get to know him, appreciate his skills, and not vanish into thin air within a matter of months or even weeks, as many have in the past.

Among the big personalities that have exited aviation, a few like Naresh Goyal, Vijay Mallya, and even former Union minister Praful Patel, have left voids that have been impossible to fill.

Let me remind readers that over the last couple of decades there have been a few lesser-known personalities in the sector, ones who came and went, almost invariably leaving a few traces behind.

In the early days, there was Parvez Damania of Damania Airways (1992-1997) and Ravi Prakash Khemka of NEPC Airlines (1993-1997), which acquired the former at some stage but went bankrupt soon after.

Even before this there was East West Airlines (1992-1996), whose owner was murdered, leading inevitably to the airline's collapse.

ModiLuft was another mid-1990s upstart that was bought by Bhulo Kansagra, a low-profile, London-based NRI, to be rechristened Royal Airways, a venture that failed to take off.

Kansagra later sold his stake in SpiceJet to Kalanithi Maran.

The turn of the century brought even more colour: Captain G R Gopinath of Air Deccan, Subroto Roy of Air Sahara, Go Air's Jeh Wadia, all eclipsed by the inimitable king of good times Vijay Mallya.

But again, there were many minor actors playing smaller parts in the wings.

How many recall India's first vegetarian airline, MDLR, and its colourful chief, a politician of Haryana, Gopal Kanda?

The airline operated for just over two years with three aircraft before hitting insolvency after Mr Kanda was embroiled in a high-drama case relating to abetment to suicide of a former employee, a matter that continues to dog him to this day.

Paramount Airways's M Thiagarajan was another lesser-known entity, one who seemed almost like he'd been air-dropped from Mars, but ran a pretty tight ship for almost five years out of Chennai, targeting primarily business travellers before going bust.

Then there have been a number of entrants who were either a flash in the pan or some who simply remained on paper.

Readers may recall Air Mantra, which flew for all of eight months (2012-2013), and was founded by the now infamous Religare brothers; the proposed Crown Air to be set up by Niira Radia of the Radia tapes fame; and another by Kapil Mohan of Mohan Meakin fame.

The last few years have been duller but many faces have come and gone, including Air Asia India's first chief executive officer Mittu Chandilya who, assisted by the media, became the poster boy of Indian aviation for a while even before there was a serious business to speak of.

Now as the pandemic tightens its grip, we don't know who among the incumbents will remain in the fray.

So when people ask me whether Mr Jalan is here to stay or he will be another flash in the pan, unfortunately, there are no clear answers.

Even before one really gets to know and appreciate the full talents of luminaries involved in this sector, they either become persona non grata or fall off the radar.

Gone with the wind, so to speak.

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