Parliamentarians have cautiously distanced themselves from Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad's recent action of assaulting an Air India staffer in New Delhi but feel that their privileges are at stake with the follow-up action of all airlines banning him from flying on their aircraft.
''How can airlines ban a Member of Parliament from flying?'' This was the question raised in both Houses of Parliament on Monday by some parliamentarians, who felt that though Mr. Gaikwad should not have assaulted the Air India staffer, they were appalled by airlines joining hands in disallowing him from flying, an entitlement of every MP in order to make them juggle between their constituencies and attend House sessions regularly.
The issue first surfaced in the Rajya Sabha during zero hour. Samajwadi Party member Naresh Agrawal accused the airlines of indulging in "strong arm tactics." "He has not been proven guilty. How can he be banned?" he asked.
In the Lok Sabha, Shiv Sena members took up the issue and even stormed the well of the House. During zero hour, Anandrao Adsul said, "While Mr. Gaikwad should not have beaten up the staff, he was only asking for his rights. The Air India employees should not have behaved with him in that manner."
Mr. Adsul also quoted an earlier incident involving actor Kapil Sharma, who allegedly misbehaved with airlines staff in an inebriated state. Mr. Sharma, however, is not on 'no fly list.' ''Why is this treatment meted out to an MP,'' he asked.
But the government was in no mood to bring relief to the MP. In a rare instance, Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapati Raju responded to the issue taken up during zero hour.
"I just want to put things in the right perspective," said the Minister, adding: "Around November 2014, there was a lot of discussion on the demeanor of the passengers. Any passenger whose demeanor is bad is stopped from travelling now. An airline can stop a passenger from flying even after issuing a boarding pass. An MP is also a passenger, we can't have unequal treatment to people of different classes. We need to keep the safety in mind, can't compromise safety of airlines."
Unhappy with the reply, Shiv Sena members stormed the well of the House. But Speaker Sumitra Mahajan ordered them to get back to their seats. "I allowed Mr. Anandrao to raise the issue and the Minister has replied," she said. When the MPs refused to relent, Ms. Mahajan's reply was more stern. "We all can understand what transpired. Do not take up the issue like that, it will not send a good message."