Shashi Tharoor, the Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram | File photo: ANI
Congress leader & MP from Thiruvananthapuram Shashi Tharoor | File photo: ANI
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New Delhi: Facing backlash over his support for privatisation of the Thiruvananthapuram airport, Shashi Tharoor, the Congress MP from the city, has said the Kerala government is “questioning the very game” it has chosen to play.

“First, the BJP announced the tender, not the Congress, and the Government of Kerala chose to participate in the bidding, under rules they agreed to. After losing in the bid process, they started questioning the very game they had chosen to play. Ask them why they joined the process,” Tharoor said in an email interview to ThePrint.

The controversy erupted last Wednesday, when the Union Cabinet approved the leasing of three airports, including the one at Thiruvananthapuram, to Adani Enterprises. The private developer, led by billionaire Gautam Adani, had emerged successful in a global competitive bidding process conducted by the Airports Authority of India (AAI) last year.

However, the cabinet decision was immediately opposed by both the ruling Left Democratic Front as well as the Congress-led United Democratic Front in Kerala. In an all-party meet called by CM Pinarayi Vijayan Thursday, it was decided that the Kerala government will explore legal options to block the move.

Also read: BJP MP urges Speaker to remove Shashi Tharoor as chairman of parliamentary panel on IT

Going against party line

The Congress leadership in Kerala has maintained that it is against the privatisation of the airport, calling the move “deplorable”. Party general secretary K.C. Venugopal, leader of the opposition in Kerala assembly Ramesh Chennithala, and state Congress president Mullapally Ramachandran all expressing their opposition to the move.

Ramachandran last week launched a sharp attack against the Narendra Modi government, asking for the decision to be “immediately withdrawn”. Venugopal labelled the decision “selling out”, and added in a TV interview that Tharoor’s position was only “personal”, and the Kerala Congress leadership’s view was final.

However, Tharoor, the three-time MP from Thiruvananthapuram, said he has spoken in favour of privatisation of the airport since Day One, and the state Congress leadership did not consult him before opposing the move.

“I took my stand when the issue first arose in 2018, and I have not deviated from it. It is not a new stand. I was not consulted before the KPCC expressed its views, and I had expressed my opinion a long time ago, which I have merely repeated,” the former Union minister said.

“I have made it clear I am only expressing the opinion of the MP of Thiruvananthapuram on what is good for Thiruvananthapuram, not speaking for the party,” Tharoor clarified.

Private operator will benefit Thiruvananthapuram

Gautam Adani is perceived to be close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling dispensation, which is seen as one of the major reasons why the Kerala government and the Congress have united in opposing the privatisation of the airport.

However, Tharoor said his position “has nothing to do with Adani”.

“Nor do I particularly care about which industrial group takes over the airport, as long as all parties participated in a transparent and fair process and were subject to the same set of rules and conditions,” the MP said. “The Congress party initiated the first PPP airport projects in India in 2006, in Bombay and Delhi. Their success is evident for all to see and led the UPA to involve private operators in many other airports in the country.”

Tharoor added that “if a private operator, motivated by profit, creates a better airport that more airlines will use, Thiruvananthapuram will benefit”.

“Whoever the winning private party is, the ownership of land and airport, as well as the responsibilities of air traffic control, security, customs and immigration still remain with the government agencies. No one is ‘giving away’ the airport; it is an operating contract, that’s all,” he said.

Tharoor insisted that what really matters to him in taking this stand “is the interests of Thiruvananthapuram, not Kochi or Kozhikode or Kannur”.

“People I represent deserve a thriving and commercially viable airport, an airport that offers world-class facilities and has the capacity to attract strong connectivity via an expanded flight schedule,” he said.

Tharoor also claimed that poor air connectivity has been a “major disincentive” in the development of Kerala’s capital, and claimed that last year, before the lockdown, the number of airlines and flights serving Thiruvananthapuram had declined.

“When more companies move to Thiruvananthapuram, they generate jobs for our people, as well as bring in more employees who will rent your homes, make purchases in your shops, eat in your restaurants and hire your taxis. This is how a city grows and develops,” he said. “The airport is a means to an end. The end is about what will make Thiruvananthapuram develop and flourish.”

Also read: Shashi Tharoor: Modi govt wasted money on faulty Chinese Covid tests ignoring Indian options


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  1. The opinion expressed by sashi tharoor is an opinion in favour of adani. No congress leader can question such privatisation because they are the people who introduced it with vigor and vitality a few years ago and now are watching bjp play their same game. The question that begs an answer from the pro privatisation worthies is why an airport which has asset value of 30000 crores, makes a annual profit of 180crore should be leased to a friend of PM, for an amount less than the annual profit.The right of first refusal of kerala govt which is an inbuilt part of the agreement during transfer of acquired land to the centre was illegally overstepped by central govt.All conditions were waived for Adani.Reckless privatisation of public assests is not development.If Adani feels like why does he not build an airport here, who stops that.Thats why the govt has gone to the High court.Adani supporters should not think that only their views matter.what you say is affront to commonsense of the society.of course there may be chances of commissions offered by Adani if you stand by him which cannot be ruled out.But His friend Modi will not rule india for ever

    • You are lying .There was no illegality in any of the central governments actions. The right of first refusal was not exercised as the State Government bid (KSIDC) fell below the requisite 10% of the winning bid (that of Adani group) . The state government was party to this condition . The state government bid was in fact 19% below the winning bid. I have been travelling to Delhi and back from trivandrum for the past 8 years . On average the air fare difference between kochi and trivandrum per passenger is 2000 rs . Why hasn’t any government be it left or right or anyone for that matter taken up this issue . If it is being operated by a private player they will have to bring the fares down and introduce more flights so as to become profitable. All in all a good thing .

  2. Yes, Shashi Ji you belled the cat finally. Whether the Thiruvananthapuram Privatisation may happen or not but you earned a lot of kudos by your constituents with your genuine interest in your heart. It is the time for the Congress government to withdraw its opposition or at least slowdown in the argument. Just because of the Adani Group who won the bid transparently, for a political reason they do not want the state especially the younger generation to prosper. People of Thiruvanathapuram will not regret to elect you as their MP. as you made your stand clearly. for some reason, this will not happen then the Congress party will be root out from the Kerala, though the communist party may get less seats.
    Nagesh Rao

  3. Mr. Tharoor is always a voice of reason and sanity , quite often the only one in his party.
    Its no secret that top Kerala Congress leaders like Mr. Chennithala do not get along with Tharoor as they think that he is essentially an “outsider” – someone who joined politics after a civil service career with the UN was over. Their disdain and contempt for Mr. Tharoor has always been evident.

  4. Kerala government is scared that private operators will come and run the airport well, and expose the communist regime’s inefficiency.

  5. we need more centrist leaders like Shashi Tharoor to knock some common sense economics into the left loonies and the followers of a dead ideology. As long as the bidding process is transparent, there’s no ground to block the airport. And the job of the govt is to build infrastructure and then monetise them so that they can build more infrastructure. Now it is all the more crucial as there is a contraction in economic growth, tax revenues will be hit, massive infrastructure projects are the way forward to bring us out of this contraction. For that build-monetise is the only viable way. Look at Hyd, Delhi, Blore, Mumabi airports. World class. Govts shouldnt run businesses and shouldnt intervene until unless absolutely necessary and where free markets fail (like health and edu). Surprisingly these are the exact areas where indian state doesnt function. Get out of sectors which the free market can take care of. Invest more in infra, monetise them, invest in health and edu. Not keep airports and hotels and give babus and political leaders concessions to use them at the expense of taxpayer.

  6. Rightly said Tharoor Ji. Congress Party and the communist party most do away with their century old state run business model aka pure socialist economy. They should accept and adopt the new reality of the world. They have to understand free market works better. Otherwise will keep and should be exploiting their naivety and ignorance and arrogance.

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