NEW DELHI: 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 ($8 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.
The head of the Mahindra Group conglomerate, who is known for risky acquisitions, made it clear that he was not in contention.
“I see myself as a generally courageous person,” Mahindra said on Twitter. “But I confess .. I don’t possess THAT much courage.”
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Once the country’s monopoly airline, Air India has lost market share to new low-cost private carriers.
Passengers tired of delays, cancellations and the service have flocked to new competitors offering cheaper and more reliable routes in India’s booming aviation market.
Sunil Mittal, chairman of Bharti Enterprises, 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.
“Potential buyer of Air India says, AI air hostesses will be retained as Air-Grandma & they will read bedtime stories to the kids in planes,” tweeted another user.
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.