Diwakar Reddy is Ravindra Gaikwad 2.0: With netas thinking they're above the law, VVIP culture is here to stay

The next time you reach the airport with less than 45 minutes for your flight to take off and the airline counter does not issue you a boarding pass, ensure you have already read up this week's bestseller How To Assault Airline Staff And Get A Boarding Pass, by Telugu Desam MP from Andhra Pradesh, JC Diwakar Reddy. One of the chapters in the "book" also talks about striking a friendship — political or otherwise — with civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju.

It's only these two things that will get you a boarding pass, 10 minutes before the flight takes off.

For those unaware of this latest display of VVIP arrogance, the incident took place on Thursday morning, when Reddy reached Vishakhapatnam airport at 7:40 am for an 8:10 am Indigo flight to Hyderabad. The airline counter refused to issue him a boarding pass, upon which an argument ensued. Reddy pushed an airline official, and yanked the printer and nearly threw it away. He then realised Raju was at the airport too. Since they both belong to the same TDP family, Raju put in a word with the duty officer and got Reddy the boarding pass.

Civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju. Image courtesy: PIB

Civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju. Image courtesy: PIB

And Reddy, in whose eyes Raju ban gaya gentleman, was ready to go!

Ashok Gajapathi Raju, a scion of the royal family of Vizianagaram, is in the process of selling off the original Maharajah, Air India, but before he manages to do that, he is encouraging a breed of neo-Maharajahs: This is the tribe of MPs, ministers and MLAs who throw their weight around, demanding special privileges, so that they remain distinguished from the cattle class.

What Reddy had not bargained for was CCTV footage of the assault exposing him. He kept denying he pushed any official, without realising the footage had given him away. He then tried to cover himself up by claiming that the push did not amount to an assault. And therefore, according to Reddy, the question of an apology does not arise.

Reddy is a repeat offender. In October last year, a similar such incident took place at Vijayawada airport. Reddy demanded Air India issue him a boarding pass, though he was late again. When those manning the counter did not, the MP barged into the Air India office and damaged furniture. Incidentally, Chandrababu Naidu, his party president and Andhra chief minister was at the airport at the same time, and he sent Vijayawada MP Kesineni Nani to pacify Reddy and buy him a ticket on the next flight.

Reddy's episode comes just a few months after Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad assaulted an Air India employee. That incident created a furore with all airlines refusing to fly the MP. Subsequently it was decided to create a national no-fly list for unruly passengers and a ban on flying them, ranging from three months to an indefinite period. Reddy now faces the ignominy of being the first MP to be on the list, with Indigo and Air India refusing to fly him, and Spicejet and Jet likely to follow suit.

But along with Reddy, Raju's conduct too will need to come under the scanner. Of course, he could claim ignorance of the fracas that broke out near the booking counter. Raju should have ideally let the airline handle the issue instead of putting his ministerial weight behind Reddy. Raju is himself a non-fussy minister who also travels in the airline bus till the tarmac and does not throw his weight around, but he has clearly slipped up on this one.

This is surprising because Raju has ensured lawbreaker lawmakers got the rough end of the stick on previous occasions. YSR Congress MP Midhun Reddy was arrested for allegedly assaulting an Air India official at Tirupati airport in 2015. Did Diwakar Reddy's party affiliation then make the difference this time?

Reddy is MP from Anantapur, that falls in the Rayalaseema region of south Andhra, a patch notorious for its factional feuds where bloody battles are fought for dominance between families over generations.

Reddy in many senses is a typical Rayalaseema warlord — temperamental and used to having his way. He spent most of his political career in the Congress and was a minister in the YS Rajasekhara Reddy Cabinet between 2004 and 2009. However, he was sidelined by YSR and Kiran Kumar Reddy after 2009 and then crossed over to the TDP just before the 2014 elections and won the Lok Sabha poll from Anantapur.

The Reddy family's domination over Anantapur is said to be complete. It dabbles mainly in the mining and transport business. The family's Diwakar Travels has a fleet of buses that operate mainly in Andhra, Karnataka and Telangana. Ironically, Reddy had claimed on Thursday that the airline business had become as unruly as the private bus sector, where owners overbook and do not allow the passengers who booked first to board.

Thursday was not a good day for the Reddy family. His brother's son-in-law Deepak Reddy, who was arrested last week on allegations of land grabbing and intimidating people to give up their lands, was suspended by Chandrababu Naidu from the TDP.

Deepak Reddy is a TDP MLC and allegedly used his political clout to encroach on land worth Rs 160 crore in the posh Banjara Hills area of Hyderabad.

Airports in India have the culture of a protocol officer who meets the VVIPs at the airport gate and guides them till the aerobridge or the ladder. It is this "jee huzoori" culture that has made politicians feel they are a cut above the rest. Just like the red beacons were taken away, it is time these privileges are withdrawn as well. Let the politicians also ensure they report to the airline counters on time, stand in a queue, get frisked and wait for their baggage at the conveyer belt, like any one of us.

The Vishakhapatnam episode is proof that the red beacons have disappeared only from the cars. Because if you throw the rulebook at the politicians, they see red almost immediately.


Published Date: Jun 16, 2017 10:04 am | Updated Date: Jun 16, 2017 10:04 am


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