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Meet leader of pilots’ strike,son-in-law of unionist Datta Samant

NCP MLA Jitendra Awhad says boss Pawar won’t interfere in his ‘cause’

Written by Kavitha Iyer | Mumbai | Published: May 12, 2012 2:22:11 am

The man leading the pilots who have brought Air India to its knees,president of the Indian Pilots’ Guild Jitendra Awhad,does not believe that his boss,union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar,will order him to call off the five-day strike.

“This is a just cause,we have reasonable demands,” says the 46-year-old Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MLA from Mumbra-Kausa outside Mumbai.

Awhad,a former students’ union activist and state president of the Youth Congress in the mid 1990s,is currently president of the NCP in Thane. He is married to former Air India airhostess Ruta,and has been president of the pilots’ guild for the past six years. Ruta is the daughter of the legendary trade union leader Datta Samant.

Awhad himself has never worked with Samant,and says he has his independent political concepts. “Passengers were our priority even during the six months when pilots went without pay because the airline was facing a financial crisis. In fact,people should now ask why pilots who worked without salaries are putting their jobs on the line today,” he says.

Awhad was in his second term as member of legislative council when he was elected to the Maharashtra assembly in 2009. His name figured recently as the allottee of a flat in Mumbai’s controversial Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society.

Awhad has the reputation of being a shrewd,if headstrong,local leader who recently outwitted Congress leaders who were cosying up to the Shiv Sena in local municipal corporation affairs.

He is tenacious and willing to take to the streets,and says his stint in personnel relations in Kores India,and his father’s 40 years’ experience in industrial relations are coming in handy now.

He calls for a “human touch” in understanding the current crisis,and says the over 300 pilots on dharna at the Juhu airfield have remained united despite 71 of their colleagues having been sacked until Friday,and “despite the threats and victimization”.

The number of striking pilots could rise to 400 soon,Awhad claims. “What is making these professionals agitate despite the fact that their jobs are in danger? (Civil Aviation Minister) Ajit Singhji must understand the mentality of these boys and girls.”

Awhad complains that “it has been five years since the merger (of Indian Airlines and Air India) and there is still no merger policy.” Reminded that the merger was overseen by a civil aviation minister of his own party,he says,“I am talking about the current situation.”

Awhad says that even though he represents only pilots,many other AI employees had got in touch with him three months ago. “This will precipitate a crisis across categories of Air India’s 29,000 employees. What you’re seeing with the pilots will trickle down to all employees,” he warns.

“There has to be a merger of minds first. A human touch is necessary in industrial relations,that’s what HR is all about,” he adds.

Awhad is,however,a believer in “not stretching anything till it snaps”. He says he has made “five to six” calls to Ajit Singh,and left his number and messages. “A socialist leader like Ajit Singh,the son of a farmers’ leader,will open-heartedly call us for talks very soon,we hope.”

The strike,he says,“gives me no joy whatsoever”. And,“if even one of our demands is met,we will withdraw the agitation.”

SC Declines to intervene

The Supreme Court declined Friday to

entertain a plea for contempt proceedings against the striking pilots and told the government to sort out its problems with them.

Both government and pilots expressed the desire to talk,but the government continued to insist that the strike must be called off first.

23 Flights of AI and AI Express were cancelled Friday. AI sacked another 25 pilots,and wrote to DGCA asking for licences of 10 strike leaders to be cancelled.

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