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Ravindra Gaikwad Air India row: Let the episode be a catalyst for aviation industry reform

There are a couple of questions which need answers in this entire tragi-comic episode of a Shiv Sena MP hitting an Air India employee with his slippers and all domestic airlines subsequently barring the Member of Parliament from flying again, indefinitely. One, should Ravindra Gaikwad be allowed to fly again ever within the country, given his unmanageable temper and larger than life image of himself? Two, had an aam aadmi dared to do such goondagardi, would he or she also have been similarly forgiven and the ban revoked after a half-apology and naked threats by the perpetrator? If the answer to both these questions is a resounding ‘No’, then Gaikwad should not be allowed to fly in the Indian skies.

 Ravindra Gaikwad Air India row: Let the episode be a catalyst for aviation industry reform

Representational image. PTI

Air India and more importantly the Ministry of Civil Aviation should stand their ground, never mind the political consequences. The only thing to now watch out for is this: for how long will Air India defy its political masters (even if we presume the NDA government is behind this strong stand against ally Shiv Sena)? This Ravindra Gaikwad is no stranger to controversy. Media reports had earlier alleged that Gaikwad was one of the 11 MPs who had, in 2014, tried to force-feed a Muslim worker of Maharashtra Sadan in Delhi during Ramzan, for not being served Maharashtrian food at the Sadan. The worker was observing a fast.

A letter which Gaikwad purportedly wrote to A Gajapathi Raju, the Minister of Civil Aviation, this evening after his party MPs had reportedly lunged for Raju in Parliament earlier in the day, is rather carefully drafted. It does not use the word apology anywhere, instead expressing “regrets”. The MP also tries to assure Raju that the “incident” would not be repeated again in future while seeking the removal of his travel ban by airlines. Earlier in the day, Gaikwad had said in the Parliament that he will not apologize to the airline employee he beat up, a stand also endorsed by his party.

Till the time of writing this piece, neither AI nor any other domestic airline had revoked the ban. That MPs flock together to defend one of their own becomes clear from this agency copy where the Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan said lawmakers cannot fulfil their duties if there is ban on flying.

“I am not a judge and cannot pass judgement on this issue. But, the matter should be resolved amicably. MPs have to come to Parliament. Saturday and Sundays are off so many times. MPs have to go for meetings and it is not possible to travel by train to those places and come back. So one has to take flights. If there is a ban on flying, then an MP cannot fulfil his/her duty. No matter should be prolonged for so long. Whatever enquiry has to be conducted, it should be done and a conclusion should be reached,” she said while speaking to reporters in Parliament. If only Mr Gaikwad had realised how much travel is required in discharge of his lawmaking duties and used restraint while breaking the law, perhaps other MPs wouldn’t be exercised about his travel travails!

And this piece shows how the Shiv Sena continued to show its trademark belligerence through the day. First, Gaikwad said in parliament that he had been provoked on 23 March by the Air India manager when he landed in Delhi and demanded an explanation for why he was made to fly economy despite a business class ticket. However, the flight operated as an all-economy journey. The manager, the politician said, taunted and insulted him and then shoved him. "I will apologise to parliament but not to him," the MP said. Sena MPs cheered him through his speech. Then, party leader and Union Minister Anant Geete charged at Gajapathi Raju who said that MP or not, the safety of passengers cannot be compromised.

Geete, seated across the aisle from the Aviation Minister, rushed towards him and started banging on a desk in anger. Sena men threatened, "No flights from Bombay will be able to take off." Raju was then led away in a huddle of ministers to ward off an attack. And Air India began mounting extra security for continuing normal flight operations from Mumbai and Pune – both supposed strongholds of Shiv Sena. The half-apology from Gaikwad to Raju came much later, after the Speaker held a meeting of MPs concerned in her chamber and another meeting was held in which Home Minister Rajnath Singh was also present.

There were reports that Air India had decided to revoke the ban conditionally when, according to some reports, the Sena called a press meet inside Parliament and used some harsh words against Air India and its CMD Ashwani Lohani. This prompted the airline to share two separate letters written by employee unions expressing their support of Lohani. Anyhow, now that each side seems to be testing the others’ patience, it is high time that India develops a no-fly list. Let Gaikwad’s episode be a catalyst to unleash this critical aviation industry reform. Let India join some other countries like the USA where a passenger who is on such a list, gets automatically barred from boarding a flight. The Ministry of Civil Aviation has been evading this issue for long, perhaps now is as good a time as ever to put these noble intentions to work. Or we may have other Gaikwads waiting in the wings.

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Updated Date: Apr 06, 2017 22:08:57 IST