Huge ruckus in Lok Sabha over Gaikwad air travel ban

Sena MP Ravindra GaikwadIn a shocking upheaval in parliament today, Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju had to be shielded as he was almost surrounded by Shiv Sena members angry over his firm refusal to intervene on the flying ban on Ravindra Gaikwad.

The Sena MP was banned by airlines including national carrier Air India after he assaulted an airline manager two weeks ago because he could not be given a business class seat (See: No-fly for Sena's Gaikwad: AI stands firm under pressure).

The dramatic developments that were off camera because of a break in the Lok Sabha, saw home minister Rajnath Singh and other ministers rushing to Raju's side and to help protect him from potential violence.

As soon as the house was adjourned over Shiv Sena protests against the travel ban, Sena MPs led by Anant Geete were seen almost charging at Raju. "No flight will take off from Mumbai from tomorrow," Geete shouted repeatedly at the aviation minister, who did not react.

As Geete kept thumping Raju's desk and other belligerent Sena MPs stood facing him, Rajnath Singh and others who felt the situation getting out of hand rushed to shield the minister.

The Bharatiya Janata Party's S S Ahluwalia ushered the minister out of the house as Singh and another minister, Smriti Irani, were seen trying to reason with Geete.

Singh later said that the civil aviation minister would talk to all stakeholders to reach an amicable solution to the issue at the earliest.

This morning, Ravindra Gaikwad presented his version of the Air India incident and said he had only shoved the manager when he insulted MPs. "I apologise for my behaviour but not to the Air India official who abused and manhandled me," Gaikwad said, submitting video clips that he said would prove that he was provoked.

The Sena reinforced his request that the flying ban be removed, but Raju stood his ground as he said, "The law should take its course. Aircraft are machines where people fly and safety is important. Safety will not be compromised."

"Under what provision of law can a passenger be banned?" demanded a Trinamool MP, backing Gaikwad.

Last month, Gaikwad, the MP from Osmanabad in Maharashtra, flew on Air India from Pune to Delhi, then refused to leave the plane for an hour while he demanded an explanation for not being given a business class seat.

The airline's explanation that his flight was all-economy didn't convince him. When a 60-year-old manager arrived to persuade him to leave the plane, the MP assaulted him. He later bragged to the media about "hitting him 25 times with a slipper", which led to several airlines refusing to fly him.

Over the past few days, the parliamentarian has repeatedly tried to book himself on flights but failed every time, which left him with options like taking a train or driving to Delhi by road.