The central government on Wednesday said it has received several bids to buy Air India. The most important bid is believed to be from the Tata Group, which has admitted to participating in the auction. In fact, Tata’s bid is important in the sense that till 68 years ago, this airline company was owned by Tata itself. After independence, due to the nationalization of the aviation sector, the government bought 49 percent of the shares of the company. In this way, Tata Airlines, which was successfully operating as a private airline for 15 years, became a government company.
The company was founded in 1932 by JRD Tata and he himself brought the Havilland Puss Moth, the first single engine aircraft of Tata Airlines, from Karachi to Juhu Aerodrome in Bombay. In 1982, on the occasion of 50 years of Tata Airlines’ first flight, JRD Tata once again repeated the same feat and flew the Puss Moth from Karachi to Bombay. The only difference was that JRD’s age was 78 years at that time.
Tata Airlines landed in public holding in 1946. Made good profits too. Its name was also changed to Air India. The aviation sector was not untouched by the winds of nationalization in the Nehru government after independence. First the government bought 49 per cent shares in Air India in 1948. Later in 1953, the Government of India passed the Air Corporation Act, making seven more private airlines, including Air India, public sector companies.
However, given JRD Tata’s expertise in the aviation sector, the government invited him to take up the post of chairman of Air India and Indian Airlines. Tata too took office amid the government’s efforts to persuade. During this time he was also inducted as a director on the board of Indian Airlines.
The book ‘The Tata Group: From Torch Bearers to Trailblazers’ authored by Shashank Shah, a book on the history of the Tata Group, also talks about the confrontation between JRD Tata and the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru over the nationalization of Air India. In fact, when the government of India talked about the nationalization of aviation companies, JRD expressed displeasure over it and said in front of Nehru that his government wanted to suppress private companies in the civil aviation sector, especially Tata of air services. However, Nehru said not to have any such intention and also tried to convince JRD Tata by writing a personal letter to him.
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JRD Tata continued to look after the management of this airline for a long time, even after Air India went into the hands of the government. According to Shashank Shah’s book, many times JRD Tata was seen traveling in his flights. He himself used to write notes on these flights and decide what was to be fixed, what kind of wine was being given to the passengers. How is the behavior of the air hostess, what saree is she wearing, even what is her hair style.
In order to keep the standards of Air India at the top, JRD also tried to know the experiences of the passengers on the flight itself. An anecdote of his journey in Air India is such that when he saw the dirt in the toilet on the flight, he himself wrapped his shirt arms and started cleaning it. Sometimes there was dirt in the counter of flights, so they used to get duster and get themselves involved in cleaning that place. Due to this commitment to airlines, Air India was counted among the best airlines during the tenure of JRD.