Stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra was suspended from flying by IndiGo and Air India on Tuesday after he allegedly heckled journalist Arnab Goswami aboard a Mumbai-Lucknow plane of the private airline.
While IndiGo suspended Kamra from flying with it for a period of six months, Air India banned him until further notice.
Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri took notice of the incident and "advised" other airlines in India to impose similar restrictions on Kamra, stating "offensive behaviour designed to provoke & create disturbance inside an aircraft is absolutely unacceptable & endangers safety of air travellers".
Following the minister's remarks, Vistara said it will "review and follow due process in such cases".
Kamra allegedly heckled Goswami, the editor of Republic TV, on IndiGo's Mumbai-Lucknow (6E5317) flight on Tuesday.
"In light of the recent incident on board 6E 5317 from Mumbai to Lucknow, we wish to inform that we are suspending Mr Kunal Kamra from flying with IndiGo for a period of six months, as his conduct onboard was unacceptable behaviour," IndiGo tweeted in the evening.
"Hereby, we wish to advise our passengers to refrain from indulging in personal slander whilst onboard, as this can potentially compromise the safety of fellow passengers," it added.
In a video clip posted by Kamra on his Twitter handle, he is seen asking Goswami if he is a "coward or a journalist".
While Goswami can be seen sitting in the plane and watching something on his laptop with his earphones plugged in, Kamra is heard as telling him, "Viewers want to know if Arnab today is a coward or a nationalist. Arnab, this is for national interest. I am part of the tukde-tukde narrative. You should deflate me. You should take the enemy of the states down. You should make sure that the country is in safe hands of Narendra Modi."
"You should fight against dynasts like Rahul Gandhi, who I support, on 10 Tughlaq Lane. Arnab, you should have a reply, Arnab. Arnab, are you a coward or are you a journalist? Are you a coward or are you a journalist or a nationalist? Who are you, Arnab? Who are you?" Kamra can be heard as saying in the video clip.
"You know, you do not deserve my politeness. This is not for you. This is for Rohith Vemula's mother whose caste you were discussing on your...show. I know this is not allowed. This is fine. It's fine if it is not allowed. I'd go to jail for this.
"But this is for Rohith's mother. And go...find time and read that 10-page suicide letter that Rohith wrote so that you have some emotion or some heart or you just become human. Do that. Do that you in your free time. You nationalist." Kamra can be heard as saying.
After IndiGo announced its decision to ban Kamra, Aviation minister said on Twitter,"We are left with no option but to advise other airlines to impose similar restrictions on the person concerned".
Queries sent by PTI to three Indian airlines -- AirAsia India, SpiceJet and GoAir -- on whether they are taking similar action against Kamra remained unanswered.
A Vistara spokesperson told PTI, "Vistara stands firm with its zero-tolerance policy against any behaviour or act that compromises the safety, security and dignity of its customers and staff. We will review and follow due process in such cases".
In a statement, Air India said,"In view of the incident onboard @IndiGo6E, Air India wishes to inform that conduct of Person concerned is unacceptable.With a view to discourage such behaviour onboard flts, Mr Kunal Kamra is suspended from flying on any Air India flt until further notice".
On IndiGo's decision to suspend him for six months, Kamra said on Twitter, "Thank you IndiGo. A six month suspension is honestly very kind of you. Modiji might be suspending Air India forever".
Vemula was a PhD scholar at the University of Hyderabad. His suicide on the campus on January 17, 2016, had sparked a wide outrage.
Opposition parties had blamed his alleged harassment by groups affiliated to the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh for his suicide, and had launched protests against the saffron party.
The BJP on its part had accused the Opposition of deceiving and exploiting the sentiments of Vemula's mother for petty political gains.
Congress leaders criticised the airlines for banning Kamra.
"Wish @IndiGo6E concentrated more on addressing mid air engine shutdowns, engine vibrations, loss of cabin pressure, suspected oil leak, stalled engine, cargo smoke indication, engine damage reports compromising passenger safety then acting at the behest of powers that are!" Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Soorjewala said on Twitter.
Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor also weighed in on the video and said, "The truth is that it was time someone gave him (Goswami) a taste of his own medicine".
"These are the words he regularly uses to berate his innocent victims, except he does so in a hectoring, bullying manner & at higher volume & pitch than Kunal Kamra does in this video," Tharoor tweeted.
When a Twitter user alleged that Tharoor was endorsing public heckling and forced debates, he responded by saying, "On the contrary: I deplore & condemn what was done to me & therefore approve of teaching the incorrigible what it feels like to be treated that way."
"His (Goswami's) goons, armed with cameras and mics as their weapons, have done exactly the same thing to me, in almost exactly the same words, on two separate flights until asked to desist by air crew," Tharoor alleged.
In 2017, Diwakar Reddy, who was then a Telugu Desam Party MP from Anantpur in Andhra Pradesh, was banned from flying by all six major airlines after his unruly behaviour with an IndiGo staffer at Vishakhapatnam airport. The ban was lifted within a month.
In the same year, Ravindra Gaikwad, the then Shiv Sena MP from Osmanabad in Maharashtra, was banned from flying by all major airlines after he slapped an Air India ground staff at Pune airport.