NEW DELHI, 30 June 2017: Indian billionaire Anand Mahindra said he was not brave enough to take on debt-laden Air India after the government said it would privatise the ailing national carrier.
Air India, known as the “Maharaja of the Skies” for its turbaned mascot, is reeling under 520 billion rupees (USD8 billion) in debt which clouded the government announcement of the selloff late Wednesday.
It is unclear if the government will write off any part of the debt. But there appeared little enthusiasm among potential buyers as markets opened Thursday.
“I see myself as a generally courageous person,” Mahindra said on Twitter. “But I confess…I don’t possess THAT much courage.”
Once the country’s monopoly airline, Air India has lost market share to new low-cost private carriers.
Passengers, tired of delays, cancellations and poor service, have flocked to new competitors offering cheaper and more reliable routes in India’s booming aviation market.
Media reports have speculated that Tata Group could buy a stake in Air India, which it owned before the carrier was nationalised nearly 70 years ago. Tata is yet to comment.
Bharti Enterprises chairman, Sunil Mittal, another major conglomerate, recently suggested that Bombay House, Tata’s headquarters, would be the ideal rehab for the ailing carrier.
Social media users made digs at the impending selloff, with some marking tweets with the tongue-in-cheek hashtag #maharajaforsale.
“No one in their right mind would buy Air India. Only someone hell bent on committing seppuku (ritual suicide) will buy Air India,” @iPatelAnkit wrote on Twitter.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is to head a committee to decide the size of the stake to be sold and how Air India’s assets and debts will be handled.
© Agence France-Presse