Etihad deal with Indian Jet airline faces controversy in India
Indian civil aviation minister Ajit Singh is understood to have threatened to quit in the wake of the contentious Jet-Etihad dead.
Singh, who took charge of the key ministry in December 2011, called on the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi on Thursday morning. While Singh termed the meeting as routine and explained that he met Sonia to invite her for a government function, sources in the Congress party, which heads UPA, said that the Jet-Etihad deal was discussed between the two at length.
Singh is in favour of the Rs.20.58 billion deal between India’s largest private airlines and the national carrier of Abu Dhabi. If approved, the deal will give Etihad 24 per cent stake in Jet Airways.
Sources claimed that Singh expressed his unhappiness over his role which is being questioned by both political opponents and some sections of the government.
The April 2013 deal between India and Abu Dhabi assigns 36,670 extra seats on flights between the two sectors. If the Jet-Etihad deal is approved, many of these seats would become available to Etihad, which many feel would make Abu Dhabi the hub for all outbound journeys from India, especially to Europe and North America and hurt commercial interests of private airports developed in various Indian cities like New Delhi.
Singh, who heads the five-lawmaker regional Rashtriya Lok Dal Party, was part of the opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) headed by Bharatiya Janata Party. He came to the rescue of the UPA while the government was facing threats from some allies.
The minister is upset at the Monday note sent to him by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), which has made it clear that the federal cabinet would review the bilateral agreement signed between India and Abu Dhabi regarding increasing the number of seats.
Singh had lobbied hard for the bilateral deal, terming it as important for India. However, there are not many takers for his argument, with several opposition leaders belonging to the BJP and the Left Front raising questions and terming it as against the interests of India.
Singh hit out at his opponents on Thursday alleging corporate lobbies with vested interests were opposing the deal and indirectly blamed his opponents for lobbying on behalf of the corporates.
PMO in a statement issued on Monday had stated that it would review the agreement in light of the civil aviation minister’s request to prime minister Manmohan Singh to clear the deal as it differed from what had been originally sanctioned by an inter-ministerial group.
Singh’s request is being seen as his desire for the prime minister to overrule the objections raised.
Battling serious corruption charges like the 2G spectrum allocation scam and coal-block allocation scam, the ruling Congress party is cagey about giving the opposition another chance to corner it with the next general elections barely nine months away.
It would come as a major embarrassment for the ruling party if Ajit Singh’s RLD walks way from UPA, since two big allies, namely Trinamool Congress and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam have already quit UPA over the past 10 months. Moreover, it will weaken the stakes of the Congress party in Western Uttar Pradesh, which is considered a stronghold of Singh’s RLD.