On the 15th of February, the Tata Group announced that it has appointed Ilker Ayci — former Turkish Airlines Chairman — as Air India’s Managing Director and CEO effective on or before April 1. With his appointment as MD and CEO, Tata Group claimed to have appointed an “expatriate chief” to run the airline.
However, the appointment of Ilker Ayci has stirred up controversies over his Pakistani connections and thus, is facing a security clearance hurdle.
Government to review the appointment of Ayci
The appointment of Turkish ex-pat Ayci having close past ties to Turkey’s ruling establishment has hit an obstacle. The Indian government is highly doubtful over approvals and security clearances.
In the backdrop of edgy India-Turkey relations, it is obvious for the Indian government to verify the background before any approval. Notably, Ayci is believed to be close to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, considered as a Pakistan ally.
An official reported, “Everything is up to the government now as Air India has always been seen as a national pride and asset. Also aviation is a sector that gets close scrutiny from a security point of view.”
He further added, “In the eventuality of the appointment not sailing through, Tata Sons may have to keep a Plan B ready as a contingency measure.”
For those unversed, a mandatory security clearance is required from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for key management personnel of aviation and telecom companies among some other industrial sectors.
Ayci’s deep ties with Pakistan sympathizer, Erdoğan
As per a government source, “While checks on a CEO are in most cases a formality, they are more stringent in Air India’s case.”
And that is rightfully needed. Digging deep into the professional life of Ayci, one would know that since 1994, he was the advisor of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, then mayor of Istanbul and the current President of Turkey.
When Ayci married lawyer and sports commentator Tuğçe Saatman in November 2018, President Erdoğan was one of the wedding witnesses.
In what can be seen as a trouble and threat to Indian security, President Erdoğan is believed to be a Muslim sympathizer with close ties to Pakistan. Moreover, he has been intimidating India and its leadership. He has repeatedly picked up internal issues of India at global forums that have been heavily criticised by the government of India. The government, further, had termed his comments on Kashmir as “gross interference in India’s internal affairs and completely unacceptable”.
You see, here lies the problem. How can someone having close ties with an anti-India diplomat and Pakistani sympathizer be appointed as a CEO for India’s airlines? It could be a threat to its security, right?
And thus, it becomes mandatory for the government to verify the background of those being employed for any such post. The Indian Government, thus, is correct to perform its duty and needs to be applauded for such a wise decision.