Air India 'Jai Hind' directive: Yet another example of forced nationalism

Last Updated: Wed, Mar 06, 2019 16:41 hrs
Air India

For Air India, they have captured the mood of the nation. Hence, a directive from the Chairman and Managing Director of the national carrier stated that all in-flight announcements must end with a “Jai Hind”. The official directive also stated that it should be done with “much fervour”. With many announcements usually being made, passengers will hear Jai Hind at least a dozen times perhaps.

Air India is in the middle of a turbulent time. Early last year, the government failed to privatise it after no considerable bids were tabled in the wake of the government’s offer to offload its 76% stake. NITI Aayog advised the government to bring the company back in the green before selling it.

The company has enough troubles to deal with in terms of financial stability; what does Air India think will happen if Jai Hind is said with fervour from the cabin crew? The Indian Express editorial offers an explanation –

The advisory to Air India staff to feverishly shout ‘Jai Hind’ is an attempt, too little too late, to distract from the anticipation that is turning into anger. Fervour, the second cousin of madness, when encountered mid-air, is an effective tool to ensure customer satisfaction. But there are times when even patriotism, genuine or contrived, is no refuge.

Safe to say, Twitter saw the funny side of this latest news from Air India and came up with some hypothetical and perhaps real scenarios –

Former Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti weighed in –

The state-owned airline seems to be taking advantage of the moment as patriotic fervour is high in the aftermath of India’s response to the Pulwama attacks. The move comes after Ashwani Lohani returned as the airline’s Chairman and Managing Director. This isn’t new from him. In May 2016, he issued a similar directive to pilots as a way of them connecting with passengers during their journey as Jai Hind would ‘make a tremendous impact’; he also introduced veg-only meals for domestic economy passengers.

The existing financial and operational problems for the airline aren’t going to disappear with the cabin crew directive for forced patriotism. The company is debt-ridden and a burden in the taxpayer. The 2016 directive was supposed to have an impact for the company but it hasn’t borne out. The airline hasn’t turned a profit since 2007. There’s a reason the government is having trouble with this. No one wants damaged goods.

A similar sentiment and debate around patriotism came up when audiences were told to stand up during the national anthem being played in movie theatres across the country. A sense of force-feeding patriotism while ignoring that every citizen has the right to be patriotic in their own way. So is the Air India directive an advertising ploy to pull in more passengers or another attempt to ‘teach’ patriotism to citizens or perhaps both?! It shows a certain amount of insecurity that maybe citizens aren’t being patriotic enough. We need as many overt displays of it as possible.

The commercial side is evident. Any good marketing professional or advertiser will want to capitalise on any trend or national sentiment. Right now, its nationalism. The Indian armed forces carried out their duty in attacking a terrorist base and the captured Indian pilot was released safely back to India. There has been criticism of TV channels and journalists playing on this sentiment for ratings and viewership.

For Air India, the bet is the same. Capitalise on the triumph of the Indian air force while simultaneously paying tribute to the Jawans who lost their lives at Pulwama. Other countries don’t have such overt displays of forced patriotism in the skies. British Airways crew don’t say “God save the Queen” nor do United States carriers’ crew say “God bless America”.

The coming fiscal year will be important for the company. The Jai Hind said by the flight crew at the end of every in-flight announcement won’t matter for prospective investors who the airline desperately needs at the moment.

More columns by Varun Sukumar