Let's name B'lore airport after JRD

The naming game in Indian cities is mostly based on three factors — sycophancy, political correctness and regional chauvinism. It is estimated that some 250 institutions, government programmes and places are named after post-Independence India’s ‘first family’ by their party servitors.

New Delhi’s roads have been carefully christened on a 50:50 basis between Muslim and Hindu monarchs. We have streets, stations, parks, bus stands and airports in other cities named after local celebrities. Very rarely, such as in the case of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre or Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, do prominent institutions get named after their original creators.

In this matter, perhaps the greatest injustice has been meted out to JRD Tata, the pioneer of civil aviation — not just in India but the whole of Asia. JRD took the first step on Oct 15, 1932, by piloting a 25- foot-long, single-engined De Havilad Puss Moth with a cargo of Imperial Airways air mail from Karachi to Bombay via Ahmedabd. It was the inaugural flight of Asia’s first civil airline — Tata Aviation Service.

It was JRD’s passion that saw the fledgling airline overcome the initial hiccups. This is how he described the scene then: “We had no aids whatsoever on the ground or in the air — no radio, no navigational or landing guides of any kind. In fact, we did not even have an aerodrome in Bombay. We used a mud flat at Juhu. The sea was below what we called our airfield, and during the monsoon the runway was below the sea! So, we had to pack up each year, lock, stock and barrel — two planes, three pilots and three mechanics, and transfer ourselves to Poona where we were allowed to use a maidan as an aerodrome, appropriately under the shadow of the Yeravada Jail!”

In 1946, Tata Air Lines, a division of Tata Sons, went public and became a joint stock company. It was renamed Air India Ltd. Two years later, at JRD’s suggestion, independent India’s first joint undertaking between the government and private enterprise, Air India International, with its famous Maharaja logo, was launched, operating both domestic flights as well as those to Europe.

In 1953, when several other private domestic airlines in India started failing, the government nationalised the aviation sector and formed two airlines, one for the domestic sector (Indian Airlines Corporation) and the other for international routes. (Air India International). JRD was invited to head the latter.

It is now a matter of aviation folklore as to how JRD propelled Air India to become the toast of the world for the quality of its service and efficiency of its operations. At its 78th General Conference in New Delhi in November 1985, he was conferred the Gold Air Medal by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale.

As the complete aviation man, JRD showed interest in the infrastructure needed to support aviation. In the early 70s, as the head of a government committee, he recommended the separation of the airport management functions from the aegis of the department of civil aviation.

The four international airports in the country then were to be looked after by a separate body — the International Airport Authority of India. This brought in a new professionalism in airport management. After a few years, all airports, were brought under the Airport Authority of India.

It is a shame that not a single major airport in India has been named after this great visionary. It is for Bangalore’s citizens to now rise to the occasion. This city is reputed to be more cosmopolitan than others in the country. It has even been called the country’s 21st century city. Yes, I know that the names of many illustrious sons of Karnataka are in the fray. But most of them already have important monuments and institutions in the state named after them. Let us show the rest of the country that on this issue, we can rise above the parochialism and sycophancy that the others  exhibited and give JRD Tata his due by campaigning to name the city’s international airport after him.

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