Friday, October 8, 2021

From Air India decor to saris of the hostesses: When Indira Gandhi hailed JRD Tata's contribution

A day after the Narendra Modi government announced that the Tata Group had won the bid for Air India, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh shared an interesting letter exchange between late prime minister Indira Gandhi and Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata from 1978.

Indira wrote the letter after the Morarji Desai-led government in February 1978 dropped the JRD Tata from the posts of chairman of Air India and director of the Indian Airlines board. 

JRD Tata had been on the posts since 1953 when Tata Airlines and seven other domestic carriers were nationalised and rebranded as Indian Airlines by the government. 

The international arm of Tata Airlines, Air India International, which took to the skies first in 1948 on the Bombay-London route, was also nationalised and rechristened as Air India.

The then government had offered JRD Tata to head Indian Airlines and Air India, but summarily asked him to leave 25 years later.

Writing to JRD Tata en route from Guwahati to Kolkata on February 14, 1978, Indira said, "You were not merely the chairman but the founder and nurturer who felt deep personal concern. It was this and the meticulous care that you gave to the smallest detail, including the decor and the saris of the hostesses, which raised Air India to the international level and indeed to the top of the list."

Indira also sought to clarify upon the misunderstandings between them but did not go into the specifics.

"There was some misunderstanding between us, but it was not possible for me to let you know of the pressures under which I had to function and the rivalries within the Ministry of Civil Aviation. I would not like to say more," Indira said.

Responding to Indira's letter two weeks later, JRD Tata said he was touched by Indira's reference to the part played by him in building up the airline. 

JRD Tata said he was fortunate in the loyalty of his colleagues and staff, and the support he got from the government without either of which he could have achieved little.

JRD Tata was once again appointed to the two boards when Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980. He continued to remain on the boards till 1986 when Ratan Tata was appointed as Air India chairman.

Image Courtesy: Tata Group website

Also Read: 

Tata Sons acquires winning bid for Air India at Rs 18,000 crore: Government

There is 'India Inside' in almost every product we consume: MoS Rajeev Chandrasekhar



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