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Praful Patel, Descent of Air India and the killing of a critical book

Thursday, 16 January 2014 - 6:45am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Bloomsbury apologises, withdraws Jitender Bhargava's tome against ex-civil aviation minister who rubbishes charges .

The descent of Air India is complete. Or so, it seems. Publishing giant Bloomsbury in a decision, unprecedented for its abject surrender, has withdrawn former AI top honcho Jitender Bhargava’s book The Descent of Air India, agreed to destroy copies of the book left in its stocks and tendered an apology to former civil aviation minister Praful Patel, who has been pilloried in the book as the man who caused the downfall of the airline.

Descent of Air India chronicles the decline of Air India and Praful Patel’s contribution to the descent. Satish Maneshinde, senior advocate for the minister, told dna on Wednesday that the withdrawal of Bhargava’s book by Bloomsbury was the outcome of an out-of-court settlement between Patel and the publishing firm.

Last November, Maneshinde filed a criminal defamation case in a Mumbai metropolitan magistrate’s court against Bhargava and Bloomsbury on behalf of Patel. He denied reports that pressure was brought upon the publisher to pull out the book. “The company’s decision is purely an outcome of a legal settlement. There is nothing more to it,” he told dna.

NCP leader Patel, who is presently Union minister of heavy industries, also denied that he had lobbied to get the book withdrawn. “The book contains totally baseless allegations against me. When my attention was drawn to it, I immediately filed a defamation case against all the persons concerned. I exercised my legal right to defend my reputation. Why should I use any other means?” Patel told dna.

Bloomsbury editor Diya Hazra did not want to comment on the issue and general manager Rajiv Beri did not reply to messages.

Bhargava, however, said efforts were made to suppress the book which was in its second edition. “In the past, television discussions on the book were abruptly cancelled for some inexplicable reasons. I have still not decided how to respond to the withdrawal of my book. I am a corporate person and not a legal one,” he said.

He told dna that two public interest petitions were pending before the courts against Patel. The first petition was filed by advocate Prashan Bhushan (now an Aam Aadmi Party leader) in the Supreme Court and the other by a Mumbai-based lawyer. “The local lawyer contacted me a couple of days ago and sought my cooperation. I told him that I will discuss the matter with him before the next hearing,” Bhargava said.

Bhargava’s argument in the book was that Air India was in a complete mess largely because of government interference and wrong decisions. He has also spoken about the servile behaviour of Air India officials towards Patel. Air India was not a given a chance to fly high has been Bhargava’s message.

Descent of Air India highlights many of the reasons that brought Air India to its knees. These include several bilateral agreements that went wrong; the shutdown of profitable routes of the airline and giving them away to other airlines and aircraft bought at high prices and sold off at junk prices.

Some media reports say Bhargava has indicated that he will not take the withdrawal of the book lying down. He has plans to get the book reprinted himself or by another publisher, or get it out on the public domain as an e-book.

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