A 57-minute delay on a flight from Mumbai to the USA is hardly worthy of front-page news. But that’s what happened with AI-191 and the man in the center of the storm is Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis himself.

A document accessed by CNN-IBN shows that the delay of the flight which was blamed on “technical/operational reasons and also ATC” was actually because of a snafu where his principal secretary was not carrying the correct passport with his valid US visa. And “the CM responded that he would not travel without his delegation.” That meant 8 passengers and 14 pieces of luggage from two different containers needed to be offloaded and a new load sheet prepared. All that had commenced when the correct passport reached the airport.

Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis (left) and MoS Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju. PTI

Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis (left) and MoS Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju. PTI

While Fadnavis’ loyalty to his principal secretary is commendable, it’s just proof that it comes above the convenience of a planeload of passengers. And while the Congress in Maharashtra is demanding an enquiry and hyperventilating that “the reputation of our country is at stake”, no one believes for an instant that they would not have done the same if faced with the same situation.

You cannot be a VVIP in India worth anything if you can’t hold an airplane hostage to your whims.

Basically what the Fadnavis story and now the Kiren Rijiju story show is not so much any great moral failure on part of those two politicians but a system where VIPs routinely regard public property as their private convenience so much so that even the airlines have started thinking that way.

Kiren Rijiju says he had no idea anyone was asked to deboard Air India flight from Leh to Delhi to accommodate him and his associates. Perhaps he did. And perhaps he did not. But the fact that Air India thought it fit to kick three aam aadmi passengers off their seats to make room for the VIPs says a lot about how an airline feels compelled to crawl when merely asked to bend. Who wants to be on the wrong side of a powerful minister?

Again, the flight from Leh was delayed by an hour which, in the scheme of things, is hardly newsworthy. Rijiju blames Air India for having preponed the flight and says he arrived on time to find the doors closed. Perhaps there was a communication gap and someone forgot to inform Rijiju as he alleges. And Rijiju can demand to know why that happened. But if a random citizen had been in Rijiju’s place and shown up at the airport, would they have held back a plane that had its door closed and was about to take off? That’s what Rijiju does not get about VIP privilege. That’s where the real “communication gap” lies.

The only way to drive home the point of that VIP privilege is what the passengers on Pakistan’s PIA flight PK-370 did to former Interior Minister Rehman Malik and National Assembly member Ramesh Kumar Wakwani when they shooed them off the plane after the duo arrived two hours late for their flight.

“We have taken it for too long … 68 years. Are we going to take it for another 68 years?” a passenger demanded.

Again the hapless airline tried to let the VIP off the hook by citing a “technical issue” as the reason for the delay. And the scapegoats were shift manager Nadeem Abro and terminal manager Shehzad who were suspended for the delayed take-off according to Dawn for a “further unnecessary delay” beyond the one caused by a technical problem.

VIPs think rules are meant only for the little people in all aspects of life. So why should air travel be any exception? That’s why Aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju bragged that he has been carrying matchboxes with him on flights and no one stops him because they do not frisk the Aviation Minister. It’s not like Raju did not know matchboxes were not allowed. Before he became minister, he too had to surrender the matchbox. “Once I became a minister, people stopped frisking me. I am a heavy smoker and my matchbox came along with me, which earlier used to get confiscated,” Raju told the media. Raju’s excuse is he has never heard of an incident worldwide where a matchbox became a threat. But again the point is, if that’s true then why should only Raju get to carry his matchbox? That’s what the VIP does not understand about how pernicious an entitlement culture becomes.

But if some VIPs are clueless about entitlement, Pappu Yadav certainly is not. The former RJD heavyweight decided to throw his weight around a Jet Airways flight. According to a written complaint he would not put his seat up, switch off his cell phone, dropped food on the aisle and asked the crew to clean it up, threatened the staff with his chappal and pushed a stewardess aside with force while getting out of the aircraft. But again the crew did not file a formal police complaint and Yadav blamed his political rivals for weaving the story to discredit him. A Yadav supporter told the media “An air hostess should be soft-spoken”. A politician, of course, can be as boorish as he likes.

If Yadav is correct it’s rather incredible that airlines have nothing better to do than spin tall tales about misbehaving politicians because that’s so good for their business. In a system where VIPs culture ensure that an airline brings more headache upon itself by complaining, there’s little chance they will go out of their way to bring VIP culture to book. That’s why so many passengers now whip up their mobile phones to film VIPs behaving badly because Youtube is a better option to name and shame than the actual authorities.

Naming and shaming can drive home the point that there is indeed a technical problem with those flight delays. It is a euphemism for the mantri-ji himself.

Link to original:

Fadnavis then Kiren Rijiju: Sorry mantri-ji, you are the ‘technical delay’ in Air India flights