As Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad on Thursday defended himself and apologised in the Lok Sabha for the assault on an airline staff, an ugly situation arose as two Union Ministers got involved in heated exchanges and almost came to blows.
Gaikwad's party colleagues in the Lok Sabha demanded lifting of the flying ban against him and the party threatened to boycott an April 10 National Democratic Alliance meeting in case the matter was not sorted out at the earliest.Unhappy with the government response, Union Minister and Sena MP Anant Geete questioned how an attempt to murder charge could be slapped against Gaikwad. Geete and Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju almost came to blows as the latter maintained that flight safety was paramount. Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Textiles Minister Smriti Irani intervened to save the situation.As Shiv Sena MPs surrounded Raju, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs S.S. Ahluwalia rushed to his support.
Raju and Geete were subsequently taken to Speaker Sumitra Mahajan's chamber where, sources said, the Speaker discussed the issue with them.Earlier, Gaikwad -- banned by various airlines from flying after he assaulted an Air India official with his footwear on March 23 after his Pune-Delhi flight landed at the Delhi airport -- raised the matter during Zero Hour in the Lok Sabha.He said he apologises for his behaviour in Parliament but will not do so to the 60-year-old flight official whom he allegedly beat up. He also demanded lifting of the flying ban on him.Giving his version of the incident, Gaikwad said he was made to travel in economy class despite having a business class ticket. After the Pune-Delhi flight landed, he said, he asked for the complaints register."After 45 minutes, an officer came. I talked to him calmly, but he asked: Who are you? I asked him: Who are you? He said he is the 'father of Air India'. When I said I am a politician, one of them said: 'But you are not Narendra Modi. Are you?," said the Shiv Sena MP.The MP alleged that the airline staff held him by the collar after which he pushed him."I am staring at a ban across all airlines," Gaikwad said and claimed that the charges against him were "unfounded" and should be taken back."If the dignity of Parliament has been hurt, I apologise to Parliament, but not to the officer," he said.
Gaikwad was backed by the lone Sena member in the Union Cabinet -- Anant Geete -- who is Minister for Heavy Industries and Public Sector Enterprises.Civil Aviation Minister Raju, however, said safety was paramount in a flight."There is a process of law and it will take its own course. When I made submission to the house (earlier), I said it is not an MP, but a passenger. I have nothing to add here."If you want to defuse the situation you can; if you want to aggravate the situation, you can. In machines where people fly, safety is important and safety will not be compromised," he said.Shiv Sena members protested, after which Speaker Sumitra Mahajan adjourned the house till 12.45 p.m.The house was adjourned twice thereafter for 15 minutes each.
Rajnath Singh then promised an amicable solution. "We have reached a conclusion. The Civil Aviation Minister will talk to stakeholders and find out an amicable solution." Later, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut told reporters there is a conspiracy behind the flying ban and the party will expose it at an appropriate time with evidence."If separatists, rapists and terrorists are allowed to travel on flights, then why not an MP," he wondered.The Sena leader questioned how an attempted murder charge could be slapped for beating someone with slippers.Raut said the government had assured of an amicable solution at the earliest."We respect Rajnath Singh and hope he will find the solution. The ball is now in the government's court. It is their responsibility," he said."If the flying ban on Gaikwad is not lifted, we will boycott the National Democratic Alliance meeting on April 10. I am saying this after discussing it with party chief Uddhav Thackeray," Raut said.BJP President Amit Shah is scheduled to host a dinner for NDA leaders here on April 10.