Given the woeful condition of national carrier Air India, it has become somewhat fashionable to jump onto the bandwagon and criticise certain aspects of the airline. Unionism, government interference, corrupt leadership, etc, are things flyers—affected by a notorious Air India strike—have blamed for the pathetic state of the airline some time in their lives. Talking about the book, The Descent of Air India, former Air India deputy managing director Inder Sethi says, “The revelations in this book are not surprising when read and seen in the context of what is happening elsewhere in the country.”
Sethi may have meant it as a compliment, but what is true is that the reasons listed by former Air India executive director Jitender Bhargava in his 271-page book on the current state of Air India are hardly great revelations. Bhargava’s book is definitely not a seminal work of investigative writing on Air India. After all, the fact that the disruptive nature of the unions and the inability of the management to fight the unions led to the declining service standards is well known.
Despite this, Bhargava spends the first half of the book taking potshots at the unions and pointing fingers at the ‘weak’ management. He does this while painting himself as the lone voice of dissent in the airline. Though he does warn readers in the first chapter that the book isn’t meant for ‘self-gratification’, he doesn’t, unfortunately, stay true to his words.
What is even more disappointing is that Bhargava hasn’t provided any practical solutions to any of the problems faced by the airline during his time there. For example, he frequently blames the Indian Pilots’ Guild for its disruptive attitude in the 1990s, but at that time, India barely had one airline and a woeful shortage of pilots. So, even if the management had been strong-willed and locked out the agitating pilots, what was the option? How many foreign pilots could India’s lone international airline hire?
Bhargava is eloquent in criticising the various practices at the airline, but this leads one to wonder why he spent more than 20 years at the airline, during which he had stints in the HR and the in-flight services departments, though most of his years were spent in the corporate communications and public relations sections. Working as the media interface for the airline, Bhargava had the opportunity to develop close relations with journalists, but instead of