New Delhi — Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad on Thursday repeatedly assaulted an Air India official with a sandal here after he was forced to travel economy class though he had a business class ticket.
The criminal act triggered widespread condemnation, including from the political class, as well as two First Information Reports (FIR) against the MP from Osmanabad in Maharashtra.
A defiant Gaikwad admitted to beating the airline staffer “25 times” with his sandal — “not slipper” as he clarified — after accusing the latter of misbehaving with him when the flight landed in Delhi.
The incident happened when flight AI852 from Pune reached Delhi around 10.30 a.m.
Apparently nursing a grouse, Gaikwad refused to deboard.
Air India sent some officials to enquire what the matter was and learnt that the Shiv Sena leader was upset he had to travel economy class though he held an open executive class ticket.
Airline sources said the flight was operated by an old ATR aircraft which has only economy class configuration. So he could not have been allotted a business class seat.
When an officer requested Gaikwad to deboard, it sparked a row, with Gaikwad insisting that he was a Lok Sabha member and would speak only with the Air India Chairman.
The MP claimed the airline officer, identified as R. Sukumar, was rude and abused him. And so he hit him.
“Not once but 25 times,” Gaikwad gloated to journalists. “He (officer) said he will complain to (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi. What Modi? I am from Shiv Sena, not BJP.”
He said he had lodged a complaint with Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan. Gaikwad eventually deboarded the flight.
Later, Air India filed a FIR against Gaikwad. The airline staff also filed a separate FIR. Sukumar accused the MP of breaking his spectacles.
As news of the attack spread, condemnation poured in.
Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju said: “Such acts need to be condemned. No one can condone this, no one can support this.”
The minister said if the MP had a grievance, he should have simply written to the airline.
The Nationalist Congress Party demanded that Gaikwad should be sacked from Parliament.
Gaikwad was also trolled on social media for his conduct. Some asked the Shiv Sena to act against him.
Shiv Sena spokesperson Manisha Kayande said the incident was unfortunate.
“Gaikwad is not aggressive by nature. We do not know what has happened in the aircraft. Whatever happened is unfortunate.”
But Shiv Sena leader Arvind Sawant defended Gaikwad and alleged that the Air India staff was rude.
“They insulted him and used abusive language. We do not see anything wrong in Gaikwad’s reaction,” Sawant told IANS.
Congress spokesperson Sanjay Jha called the incident “extremely repungent”.
“It is painful for the political fraternity as we have given huge responsibility. Such act should not just be condemned but strong action be taken against Gaikwad.”