Union Civil Aviation Minister P Ashok Gajapathi Raju Monday backed the decision by airlines not to allow Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad on board their aircraft, saying “an MP is also a passenger” and cannot expect “unequal treatment”. Gaikwad had allegedly assaulted a duty manager on board an Air India aircraft at Delhi airport.
Raju’s refusal to speak in favour of the MP, despite protests from Sena MPs who raised the issue of the “fundamental right to freedom of movement” in Lok Sabha, was in line with the stand taken by the office of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, sources said. They said the PM did not want the government to be seen as “supporting unruly behaviour” since it would send “bad signals” about the government, even Parliament.
“I never in my wildest dreams thought that an MP will get caught in such an incident,” Raju said in Lok Sabha.
Speaker Sumitra Majan too did not hide her displeasure. Sternly telling Sena MPs who had trooped to the well to return to their seats, she said, “Message achcha nahi ja raha hai (the message going out is not good),” she said. She said Sena members were trying to support something that was “wrong”. “Being a public representative, the incident he (Gaikwad) was involved in does not send the right message… Mujhe jyada bolne pe majboor na kare (Don’t force me to speak more).”
But there appeared to be moves to settle the issue amicably. After a meeting attended by Raju and Sena MPs, the Speaker told reporters: “I am playing the role of tai (elder sister). As of now, everybody is angry. It is time to calm down and resolve the issue. How the ban could be lifted needs to be discussed and resolved amicably. MPs need to attend Parliament and they cannot travel by train always. At times, they need to travel by plane also.”
In the House, Raju pointed out that the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) had come out with safety guidelines including on the demeanour of the passenger after an earlier incident of violence against an airline staffer in November 2014. “Violence of any kind can be disastrous in civil aviation. So the DGCA, who is the regulator on safety, gave a civil aviation requirement which empowered airlines to deny boarding to any passenger… it is not to deny boarding to an MP, but for any passenger whose demeanour is incorrect,” he said. “An MP is also a passenger… We cannot have unequal treatment of people of different classes. We cannot compromise safety in our airlines,” the minister said.
Raju’s response drew applause from some Opposition members who were locked in a verbal duel with Sena MPs.
Raising the issue during Zero Hour, Anandrao Adsul, Sena leader in Lok Sabha, said he was only seeking lifting of the ban. He said his party was not justifying the MP’s action inside the aircraft.
In Rajya Sabha, Samajwadi Party’s Naresh Agrawal supported Gaikwad, saying the ban on him “just shows their (airlines’) dadagiri (muscle flexing).”
Sources said there was “clear instruction” from the PMO that the government should not be seen as supporting the Osmanabad MP or being “sympathetic” to his case. Despite noisy protests from members of Shiv Sena, an ally of the BJP at the Centre, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar did not make any intervention.
Adsul and his party colleague Arvind Sawant argued that Gaikwad had a “fundamental right” to travel and could not be stopped from travelling. Barred by airlines, Gaikwad had boarded a train to Mumbai last Friday. Adsul also referred to an incident of alleged misbehaviour by comedian Kapil Sharma on a flight from Australia. “But there was no ban on his flying,” Adsul said.