Tata Sons made the winning bid of Rs 18,000 crore for Air India, the airline founded by JRD Tata in 1932. Back then it was known as Tata Air Services. In 1953, the Government of India passed the Air Corporations Act and purchased a majority stake in the carrier from Tata Sons. However, Tata continued as the chairman till 1977. On October 11, 2021, Tata Group subsidiary Talace Pvt Ltd won the bid for Air India and its subsidiary Air India Express.

Before the winning bid made news, there was already speculation on social media that Air India is returning to the Tatas. Anand Ranganathan attributed a quote to JRD Tata in a tweet, according to which he said, “My own friend Nehru stabbed me in my back. I can only deplore that so vital a step was taken without giving us a proper hearing.” This gained close to 30,000 likes and 8,000 retweets. Readers should note that Ranganathan has been found posting misleading claims in the past.

His tweet was included in various media reports including by The Economic Times, Aaj Tak, East Mojo and Business Today.

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Fact-check

The quote attributed to JRD Tata by Ranganathan has no references in the public domain. Alt News found that it is made up of two sentences from two different sources. Only one of them can be traced back to JRD.

First statement lifted from a 2014 blog

A keyword search on Google reveals that this claim dates back to 2014. It was found on a blog called ‘SRajah Iyer’s Blog’. The blog has multiple claims and numerous typographical errors. However, we shall only focus on the verification of the alleged statement.

The blog states, “[sic] This Tata Airlines was Naionalised in 1953 by Jawaharlal Nehru. JRD unable to bear this, writes in his diary “my own close friend stabbed me on my back!” Adding insult to injury, Nehru sends word thro a Joker called Jagajivan Ram to convey this Nationalisation. History knows what wd have happened if Tata Airlines had continued…”

As per the author, the quote in question is from JRD Tata’s diary.

It must be noted that the correct idiom is ‘stab me in the back’ and the grammatical error is mirrored in Ranganathan’s tweet. While this doesn’t prove that the quote is fabricated, it raises doubts. Anyone familiar with JRD Tata’s writings would know this is a mistake the man is unlikely to make.

JRD Tata’s life has been well documented in the form of a biography and other books written by the late author Russi M. Lala who was known for his chronicles of the Tatas. It’s worth noting that Lala joined the Tata Group in 1974, and he retired in 2003 as director of the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust. Furthermore, based on the publicly available literature, Tata and Lala seem to have been close friends.

In 2000, Lala authored, ‘The Joy of Achievement: Conversations with JRD Tata’. This book mentions that Tata read out a joke from his “personal red Tata diary”.

This is the only reference to a diary that we could find. However, in the same book’s preface, which was written by Tata himself, he says that he didn’t maintain a diary.

Furthermore, the same information – that Tata did not maintain a diary – is mentioned in JRD Tata’s biography ‘Beyond the Last Blue Mountain: A Life of J.R.D. Tata’.

“He was liberal with his time and granted interviews whenever requested and made available two big cupboards full of his personal letters as he kept no diary.”

– Excerpt From: Lala, R M. “Beyond the last blue mountain”.

Second statement from Tata’s telegram to PM Nehru

Unlike the previous statement, this statement can be traced back to the 1952 telegram (view PDF) Tata wrote to PM Nehru penning down his views on changes in the Air Transport Industry, in response to a letter Nehru had written to Tata regarding his concerns about nationalisation of Tata Airlines.

In the letter, JRD Tata informs Nehru that he learnt about the change in policy from Jagjivan Ram. This information is critical because the 2014 blog also mention Ram. The blog tries to stir up controversy that Tata and Ram didn’t have an amicable relationship.

In the 1952 telegram, JRD Tata didn’t express any disdain regarding the channel of communication about the nationalisation of airlines. The readers should note that Ram was the incumbent Union Minister for Communications from 1952 to 1956. Additionally, based on Tata’s biography, it appears Tata and Ram had a healthy relationship. Lala wrote, “J.R.D. was very impressed with Ram’s efficiency. Ram had no arrears of work and would always know everything about the subject J.R.D. was to see him on.”

JRD Tata’s views on Tata Airlines, its nationalisation and PM Nehru

In 1987, JRD Tata was interviewed by senior journalist Rajiv Mehrotra as part of his “In Conversation” series, which aired on Doordarshan. The 1987 interview is available on Tata Son’s website and Mahrotra’s YouTube channel.

Around the 3:00 mark, Mehrotra asked, “How do you evaluate yourself?” to which Tata responded, “I certainly estimate myself on a much lower level than seems to be extended to me. I don’t think that I quite deserve the friendship.. not the friendship… friendship is the wrong word, the admiration, the regard that I get. After all, all that I’ve done in my life, except perhaps creating Air India from scratch, from a little mail Airline, I haven’t done, personally.. I’ve never created anything entirely new. It happens that I inherited the situation…” It is quite evident that he was passionate about Tata Airlines.

His views on the nationalisation of airways are well documented. He was not in favour of it. However, Lala wrote in his biography, “Looking back, JRD feels that things had come to such a pass that nationalization was inevitable but years later he spoke with feeling about the approach of government to an industry pioneered by private enterprise.”

While skimming through the biography, we learnt that JRD Tata had known Nehru since he was 20 years of age and Nehru was 36. Tata has confessed his admiration and affection for Nehru multiple times in the biography. Despite their mutual administration, both disagreed on multiple topics, specifically the type of socialism and economics that would be best for India in the long run. In fact, even in the 1987 interview, Tata spoke fondly of PM Nehru.

A misleading quote attributed to late JRD Tata was tweeted by Anand Ranganathan. It was published by multiple media outlets without verification. There is no evidence of him saying “Nehru stabbed me on the back” after Tata Airlines was nationalised even as he was not in favour of nationalisation.

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About the Author

Archit is a fact-checking journalist at Alt News since November 2019. Previously, he has worked as a producer at a TV news channel and as a reporter at a leading English-language daily. In addition to work experience in media, he has also worked as a fundraising and communication manager at an NGO.