Union civil aviation minister P Ashok Gajapathi Raju on Monday backed the decision by airlines not to allow Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad on board their aircraft, saying “an MP is also a passenger” and cannot expect “unequal treatment”.
Union civil aviation minister P Ashok Gajapathi Raju on Monday backed the decision by airlines not to allow Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad on board their aircraft, saying “an MP is also a passenger” and cannot expect “unequal treatment”. Gaikwad was banned by airlines after he allegedly assaulted a duty manager on board an Air India aircraft at Delhi airport on March 23.
Raju’s refusal to speak in favour of the MP, despite protests from Shiv Sena MPs who raised the issue of the “fundamental right to freedom of movement” in Lok Sabha, was in line with the stand taken by the office of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, sources said.
According to sources, the PM did not want the government to be seen as “supporting unruly behaviour” of the MP since it would send “bad signals” about the government, even Parliament.
“I never in my wildest dreams thought that an MP will get caught in such an incident,” Raju said in Lok Sabha.
Pointing out that the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) had come out with safety guidelines including on the demeanour of the passenger after an earlier incident of violence against an airline staffer in November 2014, Raju said: “Violence of any kind can be disastrous in civil aviation. So the DGCA, who is the regulator on safety, gave a civil aviation requirement which empowered airlines to deny boarding to any passenger… it is not to deny boarding to an MP, but for any passenger whose demeanour is incorrect.”
“An MP is also a passenger… We cannot have unequal treatment of people of different classes. We cannot compromise safety in our airlines,” the minister said. “We would need to interact with people and take them along, keeping safety in mind,” he said, adding the same rules were invoked in Gaikwad’s case.
Raju’s response drew applause from some Opposition members who were locked in a verbal duel with Shiv Sena MPs over Gaikwad’s behaviour.
Raising the issue during Zero Hour, Anandrao Adsul, Shiv Sena leader in Lok Sabha, said he was only seeking lifting of the ban on flying imposed on Gaikwad. He said his party was not justifying the MP’s action inside the aircraft. Although some MPs were heard saying that the behaviour of Air India staff too was not correct, Raju remained firm on the stand he had taken.
In Rajya Sabha, Samajwadi Party’s Naresh Agrawal supported Gaikwad, saying the ban on him “just shows their (airlines’) dadagiri (muscle flexing).”
Sources said there was “clear instruction” from the PMO that the government should not be seen as supporting the Osmanabad MP or being “sympathetic” to his case. Despite noisy protests from members of Shiv Sena, an ally of the BJP at the Centre, parliamentary affairs minister Ananth Kumar did not make any intervention. Even speaker Sumitra Mahajan, who earlier said the incident happened outside Parliament, did not hide her displeasure in the House Monday.
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Sternly telling the Shiv Sena MPs who had trooped to the well of the House to return to their seats, Mahajan said they should sort it out in discussions with the Civil Aviation Minister. “Message achcha nahi ja raha hai (the message going out is not good)… This is not the way,” she said. The speaker said Shiv Sena members were trying to support something that was “wrong”.
“Being a public representative, the incident he (Gaikwad) was involved in does not send the right message… Mujhe jyada bolne pe majboor na kare (Don’t force me to speak more on the issue),” the Speaker said.
Adsul and his party colleague Arvind Sawant argued that Gaikwad had a “fundamental right” to travel and could not be stopped from travelling. Barred by airlines, Gaikwad had boarded a train to Mumbai last Friday. Adsul also referred to an incident of alleged misbehaviour by comedian Kapil Sharma on a flight from Australia. “But there was no ban on his flying,” Adsul said.