Bharatiya Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy on Monday castigated the Narendra Modi government for planning to sell its entire stake in Air India. Congress leaders Kapil Sibal and Sandeep Dixit also slammed the move, saying it shows that India was on the “brink of bankruptcy”, ANI reported.

“This deal is wholly anti-national and I will be forced to go to court,” Swamy tweeted. “We cannot sell our family silver.”

Kapil Sibal said this shows that the government does not have money. “The government of India has no money, growth is less than 5% and millions of rupees are outstanding under MNREGA [Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act],” he told ANI. “This is what they will do, sell all valuable assets we have.”

Dixit pointed out that Air India was a national heritage. “Selling the company shows that there is a serious bankruptcy in the country,” he added. “It also shows that the economy is in depression. We also suspect some corruption in the process of selling the company.”

The government’s move to sell 100% stake in the national carrier is a major shift from its stance in 2018, when it wanted to divest only 76% of its shares in Air India. The proposed stake sale, however, had failed to take off then. This change will give complete operational freedom to the new owner.

Qualitatively different from 2018 bidding: Aviation minister

Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said due to its accumulated debt of around Rs 60,000 crores the financial position of Air India could be described as very fragile and it “can only be described as being under a debt trap”.

He said the revised push to sell the national carrier was qualitatively different from 2018. “A lot of things were happening in 2018,” the minister added. “External environment was not entirely conducive and we were short of Lok Sabha election. This time, we are very clear in our approach.”

Singh said employees’ dues along with arrears would be paid by the holding company before closing the proposed transaction.

Initial expressions of interest have to be submitted by March 17, according to a government document released on Monday. Qualified bidders are likely to be notified on March 31. A bidder will have to agree to assume roughly $3.26 billion (Rs Rs 23,286 crore approximately) of debt, along with other liabilities. Last time, the bidders were expected to take over debt of Rs 24,576 crore and current liabilities of Rs 8,816 crore a combined figure of Rs 33,392 crore.