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Opinion: A date of ignominy in the Kingfisher Airline calendar

2010 Kingfisher Calendar. Copyright KingfisherWorld

Kingfisher is known for its super-sexy swimsuit calendar, featuring some of the most beautiful women in the world, and Kingfisher Airline’s Chairman Dr. Vijay Mallya’s son, Sidhartha, may love cavorting on the beach with them, but yesterday, October 4, 2012, witnessed a tragedy, and was, to borrow the words of FDR, a date that will live in infamy for the financially imploding airline.

The wife of one its employees committed suicide due to non-payment of her husband’s salary for over six months.

Sushmita Chakraborti was not a model on a fancy calendar, nor would either of the Mallya father or son, like to cavort on the beach with her; she was the poor, 45 year old wife of a retired Indian Air Force officer, Manas Chakraborti, who is working, salary unpaid, as an engineer with Kingfisher Airlines. Living in a LIG (low income group) housing colony in airport suburb of Dwarka, in New Delhi, where she hung herself, she was the mother of an 18 year old college going son.

CNN-IBN reports, in her suicide note, Sushmita wrote,

“My husband works with Kingfisher where they have not paid him salary for the last six months. We are in acute financial crisis and so I am committing suicide”

Kingfisher Airlines logo stained with the blood of the suicide of wife of employee

Mrs. Chakraborti’s suicide has stained in blood the Kingfisher Airline’s image, and forever damaged the already tarnished the Kingfisher brand, once valued at over Rs. 1,000 Crore. The contagion is already spreading. The Reserve Bank of India has already instructed banks not to use the brand as collateral for loans.

Her death is in stark contrast to the extravagant uber-lavish lifestyle of the Mallyas, which has been loudly condemned across the country, yet shows no sign of abating. Even as Sushmita was dying, Dr. Vijay Mallya was overseas, reportedly on a vacation, leaving the airline CEO, Sanjay Aggarwal, to meet with Government officials, Kingfisher pilots, engineers, and other employees, with the same helpless platitudes that has plagued the airline for over a year. He too, he says, has not been paid his salary.

While many Kingfisher employees held candlelight vigils around the nation, in support of the grieving family, CNN-IBN reported, the airline’s company secretary Bharath Raghavan resigned.

Yesterday too, the airline extended the lockout to October 12, 2012, blaming the employees for “illegally” striking. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

Last yesterday, in a clear sign of the political clout of Vijay Mallya, the Income Tax department agreed to unfreeze the airline’s bank accounts containing about Rs. 60 Crore. The authorities had frozen these accounts in May this year, when Kingfisher failed to deposit the withheld income taxes, deducted from employees salaries, since March 2009. This apart from non payment of service tax to the Excise department. It is important to note, that there is no sign that either Kingfisher Airlines or Dr. Mallya have cleared this liability.

Continuing the clout, the banks, who are owned more than Rs. 8,000 Crore by Kingfisher, and who, by their own admission, do not have collateral worth more than 10% of the loans, have agreed to release this money towards payment of employee salaries. Now, whether this money will be disbursed to the unpaid employees or squandered in more fancy lifestyle displays, is not known.

As this tumultuous week comes to a close, we offer our sincerest condolences to the Chakraborti family, and condemn the actions of the airline, its leader, and all his political benefactors who have allowed circumstances to degrade in to an abyss, resulting in this tragic act of desperation. Yesterday was a day of ignominy for you Dr. Mallya.

Comments are welcome. Messages of support are welcome. Any defence of Kingfisher or Dr. Vijay Mallya is very welcome. And last but not the least, please do cast your vote in our survey whether Kingfisher Airlines should be allowed to continue or be closed.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.
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