Through the day, Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaekwad bragged on TV channels about how he had beaten up an Air India staffer with his slippers “25 times” at the Delhi airport after refusing to leave the aircraft following an argument over seating on Flight AI 852 from Pune.
But late Thursday night, an 83-second video clip emerged with fleeting images of the assault on a duty manager inside the aircraft on the tarmac and an Air India stewardess repeatedly pleading with the MP to stop because he was a “role model” and a “democratic leader”.
At one point in the video, the stewardess is heard telling the MP: “Aap fenk denge toh murder case ho jayega na, sir (If you throw him down, it will be a murder case, sir)”. The MP is heard replying: “Hone do na, bahut cases hai hamare upar (Let it happen, there are many cases against me.”
The stewardess tries hard: “You are our representative, you are our democratic leader, we have elected you.”
Gaikwad, incidentally, was also among 11 MPs of Shiv Sena who allegedly forcefed a chapati to a Muslim catering supervisor at the new Maharashtra Sadan in Delhi after they were not served Maharashtrian food. The MPs had forced the supervisor to eat even though he was fasting for the month of Ramzan.
The two-time former MLA from Omarga in Osmanabad district also has seven criminal cases registered against him, including on charges of rioting, wrongful restraint, assaulting a government servant, physical assault and criminal intimidation.
On Thursday, two separate complaints were lodged with Delhi Police against Gaikwad: one by R Sukumar, the 60-year-old contractual employee of Air India who was assaulted, and another by a senior manager on behalf of the airline for delaying the aircraft’s onward journey to Goa by 40 minutes. No case has been registered yet.
Sukumar told the police that apart from beating him, the MP tried to push him off the plane, tore the button of his cardigan, broke his glasses and humiliated him in front of other crew members. “God save our country if this is the culture and behaviour of our MPs,” he wrote in his complaint.
Special Commissioner of Police (Delhi spokesperson) Dependra Pathak told The Indian Express: “We have examined both the complaints and prima facie, they make for non-cognisable offences. We have conducted a medical examination of the victim who is a contractual employee of AI. We are now seeking legal opinion and will take appropriate action accordingly.”
The Sena moved to dissociate itself from the MP’s action and said that it has sought an explanation from him. Union Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju condemned the incident saying that that such physical assault will not be “encouraged”.
“The Shiv Sena does not endorse violence or subscribe to such behaviour. We, however, also need to understand why he lost his temper… We need to find out his side of the story as well,” said Sena spokesperson Manisha Kayande.
Air India sources said the MP’s private assistant had informed the Pune airport manager that he had an open business class ticket, but came to know on Wednesday evening that the flight is an all-economy aircraft. “AI officials offered a cancellation to the personal secretary, but he insisted that the MP had an urgent meeting to attend. After some discussion, he was allotted the seat in the first row,” said sources.
However, after the flight landed in Delhi at around 10 am, the MP refused to leave with the other 151 passengers, said an Air India official.
“The flight staff tried to convince him, but he told them to call the Civil Aviation Minister (to explain why he didn’t get a business class seat). The matter was reported to the Senior Assistant General Manager who asked the complainant Sukumar to meet him. Sukumar had a discussion with the MP, who first asked him to speak in Hindi, not English, and then started abusing him. He asked him to call the CMD of AI to apologise. The MP got furious after he was told that he was an elected representative and should behave accordingly,” said an Air India official.
”He hit him, started shouting at him, snatched his glasses and pushed him to the ground. Sukumar fell down and the MP started beating him with his slippers. Later, the airport manager, a former hockey player, rushed in and saved him,” said airport sources.
Following the incident, Air India CMD Ashwani Lohani assured his staff of the management’s support in such incidents.
In a message to the staff, Lohani said: “It was a bad incident involving an MP bashing up an AI’s staffer. While we have filed two complaints, it is necessary that in all such cases of a passenger misbehaving, assaulting them, the airport manager would invariably lodge an FIR with the local police without waiting for any approvals from seniors. Further, I want cabin crew to directly inform me and my office about passenger misbehaviour cases on board. Our management is always with them.”
(With inputs from ENS, Mumbai and Pune)