The NDA government ordered Air India to lift the no-fly ban on Shiv Sena MP and national shame Ravindra Gaikwad today, under intense pressure from its ally and coalition partner in Maharashtra, Shiv Sena. The airlines has decided to comply immediately with the order, with private airlines also following suit.
Gaikwad had assaulted a 60-year old cabin crew on an AI flight from Pune to Delhi last month when he was informed that the flight was all-economy, even though he had first-class vouchers. He also tried throwing the employee off the plane, and held the plane hostage for quite some time after it landed at the Delhi airport. He was brazenly seen boasting about having taught the crew a lesson on camera, causing national outrage over his misconduct and prompting AI and subsequently private carriers to ground him till he issued an unconditional apology. This high drama was capped when AI (and also private carriers) repeatedly had Gaikwad’s tickets cancelled over the last two weeks.
Shiv Sena MPs has demanded an end to the ban, citing the MPs inability to discharge his parliamentary duties. Even though the BJP government and its aviation minister Gajapathi Raju have resisted the strong arm tactics of the Shiv Sena uptil now, which has brought the proceedings of both houses of the parliament to a standstill over the matter, it gave in today when Shiv Sena threatened to skip the NDA dinner to be hosted by Prime Minister Modi on Sunday. More seriously, it had threatened to disrupt flights in Mumbai unless the ban was lifted.
It should be noted that both AI chief Ashwani Lohani in meetings with the aviation ministers Raju and Jayant Sinha, and the AI Cabin Crew Association (AICCA), had demanded an unconditional apology from Gaikwad, and noted that the MP was a “flight risk”, with no guarantee of such an incident not happening again in the future. On Thursday, the MP had issued a letter to Raju expressing regret over the incident, but refusing to apologize. Realizing that the government would order it to lift the ban anyway, the AICCA said it would be a ‘shame’ if the ban is lifted on Gaikwad without ‘a rap on the knuckles’ , stating “We Do NOT wish to be flying such a person….It would also crush the morale of all employees,” the association said late on Thursday night” in a letter to AI chief Lohani.
This probably marks the shameful end to the bizarre set of events, which not only made apparent the impunity with which a lot of netas in India operate, but also brought into question security in airplanes and airports in India. However, Gaikwad still faces criminal charges, one for hitting the government staff on duty and the other for taking the plane ransom without departing from the plane. It remains yet to be seen what action is taken on these counts by the public justice system.