Union civil aviation minister P Ashok Gajapathi Raju’s admission that he carried matchboxes on flights comes in the face of increasing concern over flight safety all over the world. The minister claimed that earlier, when he wasn’t a part of the government, he had been frisked every single time but ever since he was appointed to the Cabinet, protocol allowed him a free pass on carrying banned items—lighters and match-boxes. While Raju did make a fair point saying security processes have to be meaningful instead of being obtrusive, his brazening it out saying “a minister is not a security threat”, betrays a thriving VIP culture among those in power. Non-VIP, aam aadmi flyers, who have to wait in queues and then get frisked, will not take too kindly to this. Raju, and the other VIPs, will need to understand that the privilege is a grace accorded to them, not a right.
Also, given how important it is for the government to project the right image, the controversy has surfaced at very poor timing for the country. India has just shed the ignominy of a flight safety ratings downgrade by the US’s Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), and can ill-afford its civil aviation minister being so cavalier about flight safety norms. The FAA, Raju needs to keep in mind, bans “strike anywhere” matches in both check-in and cabin luggage. Being downgraded to Category 2 last year meant Air India and Jet Airways couldn’t expand their American operations while affecting code-share arrangements with American carriers. Ministers can’t be projecting a poor image of India in terms of aviation safety.