Are our lawmakers above law?


S.Madhusudhana Rao

That is the question our ‘honourable’ members of Parliament and legislative bodies throw up with their uncivilized public behavior from time to time. By doing so, they reaffirm, rather unwittingly, the Orwellian aphorism that some are more equal than others. A week ago, Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad had endorsed George Orwell’s prescient observation in his famous novel The Animal Farm in word and deed.

What Gaikwad had said after slapping an Air India official 25 times with slippers, tearing his shirt and breaking his spectacles, for his ‘insulting behaviour’ with an ‘honourable’ Member of Parliament was on record. He confessed, in fact, he bragged about it, what he had done to a senior staffer of the national carrier. For a couple of days, while the TV and social media had named and shamed the pubic representative of Osmanabad Lok Sabha Constituency from Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena reacted cautiously first and then launched an offensive against Air India for the ugly spat between the SS leader and the carrier’s official.

It’s a calculated move on the part of Shiv Sena leadership to turn the tormentor into a victim and ward off political fallout by building pressure on the Central government and the party’s bitter ally Bharatiya Janata Party. A week later, it has become clear that the BJP and Shiv Sena have turned the Gaikwad’s onboard tantrums into a battle of who-calls-the-shots when relations sour.  

The contentious point is Air India barring Gaikwad from flying for his obnoxious behavior, a move followed by other commercial carriers which, in effect, grounded the MP. He has to travel either by train or by road to attend the Lok Sabha. His travel travails have struck a sympathetic chord with Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan who favours an amicable solution to the row between Air India and Gaikwad. But it looks unlikely as the MP and his party is now trying to turn the tables on the national carrier. To some extent, Shiv Sena has succeeded in shifting the focus from its MP’s reported unruly behavior to his privilege to fly in Business Class on official business and portraying him as the aggrieved party in the hands of ‘imperious’ Air India officials.

After moving a privilege motion in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday against Air India for disallowing Gaikwad to fly, Shiv Sena MPs met Speaker Sumitra Mahajan to impress upon her the need to take action against AI staffer Sukumar Raman who they claim had misbehaved with Gaikwad. They also alleged that Sukumar had ‘provoked’ the MP in such a manner as to react.

Though the Speaker has not given her mind on the complaints made and issues raised by the Shiv Sena members on Wednesday and Thursday, she is reported to have told them that she is waiting for a report from the Civil Aviation Ministry.

While the law takes its own course – and time – with Sukumar and Gaikwad filing police complaints against each other and the Aviation Ministry conducting its own inquiry, it should not become a mere academic exercise: who is at fault and who should apologize first and ‘restore’ the dignity of honorable MP.  Nor the more pertinent issue of the public conduct of our elected representatives be lost in the nitty-gritty of their perks and privileges and the proposed review of how to tackle rogue air passengers.

The Civil Aviation Ministry is reported to have considering the revision of 2014 provisions that bar unruly passengers from flying (whether law-makers will come under that category we don’t know). ‘Unruly fliers’ are categorized as those who endanger safety of passengers and the aircraft; drunken behavior, obstructing the cabin crew from carrying out their duties, disregarding cabin crew instructions, etc. But the rules lack clarity and they can be subject to legal scrutiny. 

A national policy with broad guidelines to deal with uncouth, lewd and lecherous air travelers is most welcome, in the interest of general public, but the onus of disciplining legislators should be on the political parties. First and foremost, the elected representatives are expected to serve the people, not behave like their masters. Unfortunately, the fact remains, once elected, a majority of law-makers behave as if they are above law and seek privileges that are denied to most of the common people.

In focus is Gaikwad. He could have opted for Economy when there was no Business Class in the flight instead of picking up an argument and beating up the airline official. His unpardonable behavior, now being fully supported by his party, has further lowered whatever little respect people have for legislators of that ilk. Such conduct not only shames the party to which the law-maker in question belongs but the lofty ideals of democracy.

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