Hindu nationalists block a Turkish executive’s appointment as head of Air India

Former Turkish Airlines chairman Ilker Ayci, who was to take charge as Air India’s new CEO soon, has now reportedly declined the job offer. This follows opposition to his appointment from Hindu nationalist groups in India.

Citing the reason behind his rejection, Ayci said his appointment was “coloured” by the Indian local media.

“I have come to the conclusion that it would not be a feasible or an honourable decision to accept the position in the shadow of such a narrative,” Bloomberg quoted him saying in an email. A Tata Sons spokesperson confirmed the development today (March 1) to news agency Reuters.

Ayci’s decision has come days after the Tata group announced that he would take charge on or before April 1.

Roadblocks in Ayci’s appointment

Since news of his appointment broke, the far-right Hindu nationalist group and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s affiliate Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (SJM) had opposed Ayci’s appointment.

SJM asked the Tata group to reconsider its decision and told a national daily that the organisation was opposed to the “government clearing the appointment, keeping in mind issues of national security.”

In February, news agency PTI reported that the Narendra Modi government is planning to “scrupulously” carry out a thorough background check of Ilker Ayci. Quoting unnamed sources at India’s ministry of home affairs, it said once the government receives any communication on Ayci from either the Tatas or the civil aviation ministry, it will begin the process of “security clearance.”

The problem with Ilker Ayci’s name

Groups such as SJM had reservations about Ayci due to his proximity to the Turkish president. Born in Istanbul in 1971, Ayci has served as an advisor to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he was mayor of Istanbul in 1994-1998.

Tensions between India and Turkey have increased after Erdogan’s regime criticised India in 2020 for withdrawing Jammu and Kashmir’s special status that guaranteed special rights and protections to residents of the state.

However, in recent months, the two nations have been looking to mend ties.

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