Sunday, Nov 27, 2022

Caught in the act

A video clip draws attention to a Shiv Sena MP’s grotesque sense of entitlement, an ordinary citizen’s sense of fairplay

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An 83-second video clip, made public late Thursday night, captured the best and the worst of contemporary India’s public life. Shot just after Ravindra Gaekwad, a Shiv Sena MP, assaulted Air India personnel on Flight AI 852 at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport after an argument over seating arrangements, the clip shows an arrogant VIP refusing to listen to reason, brushing aside the prospect of legal consequences for his actions. The brunt of Gaekwad’s ire was borne by R. Sukumar, a 60-year-old contractual employee who asked the legislator to de-board the flight so that it could be cleaned.

Sukumar was beaten by Gaekwad and nearly thrown off the plane. As disheartening as the MP’s behaviour has been, the video also shows the ordinary citizen’s ability in such a moment to speak truth to power, or at least to remind the powerful of their democratic duty. In the video, the Air India stewardess can be seen trying to reason with Gaekwad. She reminds him of the consequences of attacking someone; she speaks to him of his responsibility as an elected representative; tries to point out his role as a leader and exemplar to the people that look up to him and voted him to office.

The incident is hardly the first illustration of “VIP culture”, a polite moniker for the extreme sense of entitlement that those with political and administrative power flaunt in India. In fact, Gaekwad himself was among 11 Shiv Sena MPs who force-fed a chapati to a fasting Muslim catering supervisor at the new Maharashtra Sadan in New Delhi in July, 2014, over their disappointment with the catering. This time, however, his actions were recorded on camera and made public. In the absence of enabling technology, the incident would not have received the publicity it has. The smartphone, together with the internet, is making it increasingly difficult for public figures to act with impunity behind a fortress of opacity.

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There have been immediate consequences to the MP’s actions — he has been prevented from flying with Air India and members of the Federation of Indian Airlines as an “exemplary action” to “protect employee morale and public safety”. That a fear of being surreptitiously recorded is required for public servants to realise that they are, in fact, of the people and not above them, speaks to the declining standards of conduct in public life.

First published on: 25-03-2017 at 12:24:45 am
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