Indian Civil Society Pushes Back Against Abuse of Power

Abuse of power isn’t new to India but the latest scandal is taking a different turn.

Outraged at not getting premium seating, a member of parliament belonging to the Shiv Sena, a regional party in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling coalition, on Thursday refused to deplane after his flight landed in New Delhi.

After repeated entreaties to disembark, the MP allegedly beat an Air India employee and tried to throw him down the landing stairs.

With a sandal, Ravindra Gaikwad repeatedly hit a shift manager who was sent to calm him down, while threatening to throw the man off the aircraft, flag carrier Air India Ltd said in a statement the same day. Video of the incident showed him pushing the airline employee toward the door.

Air India said it had informed the MP’s staff in advance that the aircraft didn’t have a business class. The passenger was accommodated in the first row of the all-economy plane because he wanted to take that particular flight, the carrier said.

The MP later bragged that of course he had beaten up the Air India employee because he’s a Shiv Sena MP who doesn’t put up with disrespect.

“Yes. I hit him.  I wanted to throw him out of the plane,” the Shiv Sena MP told TIMES NOW. “Is he really an officer. He is not even a buffalo cart driver. He doesn’t know how to deal with customers,”

[By the way, shabash! to the air India hostess who stops Gaikwad from pushing the other employee down the stairs and then gives Gaikwad a piece of her mind, “you’re a role model, no?” she says defiantly.]

air india scandalGaikwad is no stranger to abuse of power:

Gaikwad has seven cases registered against him, including that of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and charges of stopping a public servant from performing his duty, his 2014 election affidavit showed. He was also involved in the infamous incident at the Maharashtra Sadan in New Delhi when he was among 11 Sena MPs who forced a Muslim worker to break his Ramzan fast [i.e. force fed him, AT]…The MPs were complaining of poor quality ‘chapati.’

Air India and its employee have registered a complaint with the Delhi police who have opened an investigation, it will be interesting to see what they do. Civil society, however, is making its views very clear. The Indian media are raking Gaikwad over the coals. The hashtag #GoonGaikwad is popular.

Even more important, Air India, the government owned airline, has refused to fly Gaikwad. Air India and its political masters have long engaged in a mutually profitable relationship of backscratching, featherbedding and kickbacking so for them to put their foot down even against this kind of outrage is remarkable. Moreover, in a show of solidarity, all of the private airlines have followed suit so Gaikwad has been reduced to trying to book flights under various aliases. He’s been stopped every time, however, and in the end he had to drive from Mumbai to Delhi (a nearly 900 mile trip).

This kind of pushback by civil society against the abuse of power is in many ways unprecedented in recent times. It’s an interesting marker of change in India.


Comments for this post are closed