MUMBAI: “I rained 25 blows on him with my slipper,” boasted Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad on television, after assaulting a 60-year-old Air India official for having to travel economy class. “I wanted a business class seat which he couldn’t arrange for me,” he said. What the parliamentarian chose to ignore was that he was travelling on an ‘all-economy’ aircraft.
According to reports, the first-time MP was travelling from Pune to Delhi when the incident happened. While Gaikwad had a business class ticket, the airline, due to last-minute changes, had to operate an all-economy aircraft on the route. Air India officials say they immediately informed business class passengers to either take a refund or switch to economy class.
Gaikwad reportedly agreed and travelled on the flight, but refused to disembark at Delhi. “He remained seated and insisted on meeting senior officials,” said sources, adding it resulted in a major delay as the aircraft was scheduled to proceed to Goa.
Sukumar Raman, the Air India official who was attacked said in his complaint letter, “I went to the aircraft and tried to persuade the passenger. We had to send the flight to Goa and approximately 115 passengers were waiting to board, but he wanted the top management to come inside the aircraft.” According to media reports quoting sources, Sukumar Raman told the MP that he was an elected representative of the people and should conduct himself accordingly.
Reacting to the statement, Gaikwad hit the official with his slipper and tried to push him out of the exit door. “Crew members and staff intervened and saved me from being thrown out,” says Raman. “I was insulted and humiliated in front of the whole crew,” added the 60-year old.
Raman’s page-long complaint letter ends with these words: “God save our country if this is the culture and behaviour of our MPs.” Raman’s closing lines call for a greater introspection of the ‘larger-than-law’ image of our lawmakers. “In any other country MP Ravindra Gaikwad, whose salaries and perks we pay, would have been jailed for the assault,” said journalist and author Minhaz Merchant. Though Air India has filed two FIRs against the parliamentarian — one for the assault and other for delaying the flight and causing economic losses — it remains to be seen if any concrete action would be taken.
If history is any indicator, the assaulter would walk away scot-free. Take the case of P Mithun Reddy, an MP from the YSR Congress party. He was arrested in January 2016 for assaulting an Air India official at the Tirupati airport who denied him boarding as the parliamentarian arrived after the gates were closed. Days after, Reddy was out on bail and continues to represent the people of Rajampet in the Lok Sabha.
Gaikwad himself, in 2014, was in the news for trying to force-feed a Muslim caterer during the fasting month of Ramzan. Gaikwad has various criminal charges pending against him, including voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servants from duty, criminal intimidation and rioting among others.