Although it sounds unbelievable, Jitendra Awhad claims that he has never flown via the national airline, the management of which is presently in a tussle with the Indian Pilots’ Guild (IPG), of which Awhad is a leader. “I am only fighting for the pilots because their career is at stake,” is how the NCP MLA from Mumbra-Kalwa, describes his role in the ongoing strike to Priyal Dave.
Nestled at a corner in the quiet neighbourhood of Kaushalya Hospital in Thane (W) is a branch office of the National Congress Party (NCP) where one finds Member of Legislative Assembly Jitendra Awhad speaking to his party workers and other visitors on late Sunday morning. His busy schedule is understandable as the pilots from now de-recognized IPG entered their sixth day of mass sickness to protest against the Air India management. Awhad is presently their backbone in this revolt. However, those present at his office have some minor issues to be taken care of by ‘Mr. Politician’.
Since the tally of visitors continues to remain constant, NCP district president from Thane chooses to be interviewed on his way to other branch office in Kalwa.
Dressed in casuals, the 47-year-old politician chats while being driver to the party office in Kalwa.
“I am waiting for a call from Ajit Singh,” he says while referring to the Minister of Civil Aviation in ending the deadlock between the management and the striking pilots which has been going on since the last one week.
He further elaborates, “The problem has not developed over 24 hours but it has precipitated to this level because of the indecision of the management since 2011.
In the beginning of this month, the management of the airlines said it does not understand the problems of the pilots and that is when IPG decided to protest. The management refused to accept the draft report the IPG had submitted on various issues. Despite a two-hour deliberation with the management, no decision was taken.”
While the MLA recognizes that innocent passengers are being subjected to harassment time and again due to recurring protests, Awhad is of the opinion that the IPG reacted only because the pilots’ careers are at stake. According to him the pilots do care for their passengers for if it had not been so they would not have worked without pay for months together.
“The pilots are very well aware of the financial status of Air India. Yet they continued to operate because passengers are a priority. However, the merger between Air India and Indian Airlines is now jeopardizing their careers. The employees of Air India and Indian Airlines come from different work cultures. The government should have thought of these humanitarian issues while going ahead with such a merger,” explains Awhad, who is also a bird enthusiast.
Awhad loves to pet exotic birds especially parrots. Apart from birds, his interest also lies in History. A senate member of the Mumbai University, the MLA, though silent about the alleged irregularities in the appointment of the Vice Chancellor of Mumbai University, feels that “stability matters” for the institution to return to its former glory.
“Mumbai University is too big. It should be made zonal. There is a lot of load and the university cannot cope up with it.”
So will the pilots of ICPA and IPG be on the same page ever. “The government should have thought about the merger more carefully. The pilots of erstwhile Indian Airlines have different work cultures. Everything from promotion to aircrafts differs. The unions did reach a common ground on the issue of training on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner but the management did not honour the decision taken in October 2011. The airlines should have implemented the merger policies. These differences are not just between pilots. Similar issues will emerge between the cabin crew, the engineering staff and so on in the future.”
But in light of the present circumstances, will this strike continue indefinitely or does Awhad plan to provide another deadline to the management. “The biggest problems of the world can be solved through talks. We are open to negotiations. We have no pre-conditions to negotiations either.”
But AI has de-recognised the IPG and sacked pilots in answer to the mass sick leave…
“I don’t care if the management de-recognises the union. It is not some power that I am hungry for. I will continue to fight for the pilots since their career is at stake. These people are very young and it is unfair that the management should play with the careers in this manner. If you compare both the pilots of Air India and erstwhile Indian Airlines, the former are at a disadvantage. So why should they not retaliate?”
And will Awhad continue to support them even though he belongs to the NCP, a key ally of the Congress?
“As a trade union leader one has to often clash with the government to fight for the rights of people. My role in this struggle is not as a NCP leader but as a trade union leader. Also, the fight is with the management which has misled pilots, the government and the passengers in believing that the IPG was going against the Supreme Court’s directive of training on the Dreamliner. The Supreme Court has stated that it gave no directive in the first place. In fact the Apex court has asked the management to sit down and sort out the issues. The Air India management for some ulterior motive is using the Supreme Court’s name to get the pilots of erstwhile Indian Airlines to train on the Dreamliner. This has to be checked.”
When asked what one issue he would like to work on as a parliamentarian Awhad replies right readily, “Kose kose mein badle pani, kose kose mein badle vaani (India is a country of vast cultural, lingual and regional differences). India has a variety of issues. It is not possible for any parliamentarian to focus on a single issue. There are several things that I want to work for. I cannot point out a single issue that needs to be addressed.”
Awahad was born and brought up in Thane. He did his schooling St. John Baptist High School in Thane and college from B.N.Bandodkar. It was after he failed by a mark while appearing for Civil services examination in 1984-85, Awahad decided to drop the dream of the Indian Administrative Services and turned his attention to politics for which he says he had a passion.
Married to an air hostess with Air India, Awahad had the privilege of flying by the airlines on several occasions but he says he never flew, more so after he became a part of the IPG.
- General Secretary of Thane district Youth Congress – 1980-82
- Maharashtra Pradesh NSUI Chief Secretary – 1988-1991
- General Secretary of NSUI – 1991- 93
- Youth Congress President for Maharashtra – 1996
- Joined NCP as its first National President (youth)
- Member of Legislative Council from 2002-2008
- MLA from Mumbra-Kalwa constituency in 2009