Technocrat-politician Ajit Singh takes charge of aviation
By Nithin Rao
19 December 2011
The civil aviation sector in India, which has hit a turbulence in recent months and faces a massive loss of between $2.5 billion and $3 billion in the current fiscal, has a new minister at the helm: Ajit Singh, a technocrat-politician from the farm belt of western Uttar Pradesh.
Singh, 72, joins the UPA months before assembly elections for Uttar Pradesh, where the alliance between his Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and the Congress is expected to make an impact, hurting chief minister Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party.
Besides the UP elections, Singh will also have to tackle several challenges on the civil aviation front, including rescuing state-owned, loss-making Air India (which has piled up losses amounting to Rs7,000 crore), indebted private carrier Kingfisher (which together with Jet Airways has added another Rs6,300 crore to the industry's gross losses).
Singh, seen as a reformist politician, will also have to battle demands for protecting Air India's turf by discouraging private carriers from operating on lucrative international routes.
The US-educated Singh was inducted into the Manmohan Singh cabinet on Sunday, replacing Vyalar Ravi of the Congress.
Ajit Singh is among a handful of highly highly-qualified politicians in India. Armed with a B Sc degree from Lucknow University, a B Tech from IIT, Kharagpur, and an MS from the Illinois Institute of Technology, USA, Singh worked in the US computer industry for 15 years.
He returned home to India in the mid-1980s to revive the political empire of his ageing father, Chaudhary Charan Singh, who was prime minister of an unstable and opportunistic government for less than six months.
This correspondent recalls meeting the computer-savvy son of India's farmer-premier at the office of his Lok Dal (A) in Delhi, soon after he got into the hurly-burly of politics after returning from the US. Unlike other Indian politicians, Singh drove his own vehicle - a green Maruti gypsy - spoke excellent English, and was conversant with developments in the world of technology.