Why SJM opposed Ilker Ayci’s appointment as Air India CEO
Turkish national IlkerAyci has conveyed his inability to join the Tata Group-controlled Air India as its CEO following uproar over his appointment. Ayci, who as chairman of the Turkish Airlines between 2005 and 2012 had turned around the fortunes of the struggling carrier, was supposed to join duties at Air India from April 1. However, his appointment was red-flagged by the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM). The reason cited was ‘national security’.
SJM told INDIA TODAY that government agencies were sensitively dealing with the issue. As per law, the appointment of foreign nationals in the corporate leadership of Indian companies requires clearance from the Union home ministry. According to top officials in the central government, in Air India’s case, security agencies were analysing Ayci’s perceived proximity to Turkish president RecepTayyipErdogan. Ayci was an advisor to Erdogan when the latter was the mayor of Istanbul in 1994.
India has somewhat strained ties with Turkey, and diplomats blame this on Erdogan’s support to Pakistan. In the past, Turkey has supported the Pakistan establishment on various multilateral platforms on issues of terrorism, Kashmir, etc. Erdogan had referred to the issue of Kashmir in his address at the UN General Assembly last year. India had termed it as “completely unacceptable”.
Ayic, in a statement, said that his appointment at Air India was ‘coloured’ by the Indian media, forcing him to opt out. ‘I have come to the conclusion that it would not be feasible or an honourable decision to accept the position under the shadow of such a narrative,’ the statement read. Tata Sons too confirmed that Ayic had turned down their offer.
The objections raised by the SJM are being seen in the context of Erdogan. SJM told INDIA TODAY that the major objection regarding Ayci was his Turkish nationality and proximity to Erdogan. The SJM had not opposed the sale of Air India to Tata Sons since their main demand of keeping the airline’s ownership Indian had been met.
Tata Sons bought over national carrier Air India in a $2.4 billion (Rs 18,190 crore) equity and debt deal. The conglomerate has been working on a strategy to revive Air India’s financial situation. SJM says that while they do not have any business interfering in the day-to-day running of Air India, Ayic’s appointment was a ‘national security’ issue. “It appears that the government was well aware of the situation and would deal with the situation appropriately,” said SJM..