The row over Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad assaulting an Air India employee on Monday raged both within and outside Parliament, prompting Speaker Sumitra Mahajan to suggest an amicable resolution of the issue.
Shiv Sena MPs denounced the blanket ban imposed on Gaikwad by domestic airlines which, they claimed, violated the Constitution and the law. They demanded that the ban be lifted, but did not get any assurance from the government, with Civil Aviation Minister P Ashok Gajapati Raju saying violence of any kind on an aircraft could prove disastrous.
Osmanabad, Gaikwad’s parliamentary constituency, meanwhile, observed a bandh to protest against his “humiliation” as the MP stayed put at some undisclosed location. He said he has been asked by the Sena leadership to “keep quiet”.
The assault on Air India duty officer R Sukumar on Thursday resonated in the Lok Sabha with Shiv Sena MPs demanding revocation of the ban.
Members of the Shiv Sena, a partner in the ruling National Democratic Alliance dispensation, created uproar in the House and engaged in a verbal duel with Congress MPs who criticised Gaikwad for his action.
The party’s leader in the house Anandrao Adsul claimed the ban violated the Constitution and the law.
Raju, however, condemned Gaikwad’s conduct, saying “I never in my wildest dreams thought that an MP will get caught in such an incident.”
He said aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation had framed safety guidelines after an earlier incident of violence by an MP against an airline staffer last year and those were invoked in the case of Gaikwad, who has been barred from flying all major airlines.
Speaker Sumitra Mahajan later called a meeting of Sena MPs with Raju after which she pitched for an “amicable resolution” to the issue, while steering clear of taking any sides.
“MPs need to attend Parliament and they cannot travel by train always. At times, they need to travel by plane also. I feel that this issue (blanket ban) should be resolved amicably through talks,” she said.
Mahajan, however, said that she was not passing a judgement but only trying to help resolve the matter as “an elder sister”.
“I am playing the role of ‘tai’ (elder sister). As of now, everybody is angry. It is time to calm down and resolve the issue. How the ban could be lifted needs to be discussed and resolved amicably,” she told reporters after the meeting.
Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant said, “All airlines have come together to ban him (Gaikwad), but it is our fundamental right (to travel by air).”
Mahajan said the MPs have so far not given any notice of breach of privilege motion against the airlines.
The matter was also raised in the Rajya Sabha where Samajwadi Party’s Naresh Agrawal wondered whether airlines can ban an MP from travelling for discharge of his official duty. He was, however, cut short by Deputy Chairman P J Kurien on the ground that the matter related to a member of the other House.
Gaikwad being put on the ‘no-fly’ list is probably the first such instance in the Indian civil aviation history.
After Air India put him on the no-fly list, the Federation of Indian Airlines, which has Jet Airways, SpiceJet, IndiGo and GoAir as its members, also imposed a ban on Gaikwad from flying their aircraft. After the ban, Gaikwad had to travel to Maharashtra by train.
Meanwhile, Gaikwad’s constituency observed a bandh to protest his “humiliation”.
“We have called the Osmanabad bandh to protest the humiliation of our leader by the airlines which have denied him flying rights,” Osmanabad district vice president of the Sena Kamlakar Chavan said.
“Is he a terrorist that he has been barred from flying by all airlines,” Chavan asked.
Gaikwad, himself lay low and refused to reveal his whereabouts.
“I can’t tell you where I am right now. I am with my family members and I will celebrate Gudi Padwa with them before returning to Parliament on Wednesday morning,” he said over phone, adding “I have been asked to stay quiet.”
The 57-year-old first-term MP had repeatedly hit the Air India staffer on March 23 after the Pune-Delhi flight landed in the national capital. He was furious at having to fly economy on an all-economy flight despite having a business class coupon.