Mahesh Vijapurkar

Ravindra Gaikwad’s outrageous conduct on an Air India flight would naturally draw attention for the while till it is resolved one way or the other, which is allowing him to fly or keep him grounded. If the latter, till when? The Lok Sabha’s intervention on grounds it violated his privilege to attend the sittings could be the thing.

The offended airlines quickly banned him on its flights and other airlines operating in the country stood up to be counted and did likewise. Both the steps are unprecedented because it involved a politician and a high ranking at that – a member of parliament, no less. Air India, despite the maharaja lineage, bows not in courtesy but in abject surrender to the likes of Gaikwad.

Being a public sector undertaking, with the key top level officer being a government official and government nominee, don’t even like to sail close to the wind but just give in to pressures. In this case, it did not happen and that is the happiest aspect of the development. Had it just brushed in under the carpet, Gaikwad would have literally been in the cloud whenever he decided to use the free tickets.

By insisting on keeping him off the passenger list, Air India did a yeomen service to the cause of bringing down the puffed political elite to the ground, though we do not know when that community would again start misbehaving to its advantage. Like a minister, Kiren Rijiju flying with his associates by offloading three others who included a serving IFS official and a child in the recent past.

That the other airlines, all in the private sector, too ensured to keep him off their flights by closely monitoring the reservation requests, has emboldened the public sector carrier to stay firm in its resolve. When competing airlines act in concert on a matter of public importance, it is noteworthy. It is an immensely positive move for which the long suffering public has to be grateful for.

However, there is another dimension to the reason why AI showed its spunk. Had the DGCA or anyone from the civil aviation ministry quietly suggested that it soften its stand, the public relations machinery would have come out with a rationale and dropped the matter. We do not know what the employees of AI have to say because Shiv Sena, to which Gaikwad belongs, has a trade union wing in AI.

There is enough room to suspect that there is inter-party politics behind the handling of the situation. Shiv Sena is at odds with the Bharatiya Janata Party and it has apparently chosen to remain passive so the Sena’s MP can stew a bit, and sweated a lot because no airlines’ reservation system accepts his request for a seat, economy or business class. He does not seem to like trains as an alternative at least for now.

BJP has been smart by not reacting to the episode of gross and violent misconduct of an MP and making it appear that either the ministry or the Lok Sabha can take a stand. If it were to be a privilege motion by the Sena, then the BJP’s attitude would emerge by voting or not voting for the motion. The public isn’t too pleased that a party like Sena has described the airlines as "a goon" and "a syndicate".

Whatever is operating in the background, the ordinary Indian is exulting at the outcome so far of grounding a high flyer who took his status as one which has absolute immunity. It is not uncommon to have been said and heard that being elected is being cleared by the court of the people so no other judgment means much. This time, it has been different so far, and should be a lesson to those who revel in entitlements.