India overturns flight ban on sandal-whacking politician
NEW DELHI: India on Friday overturned a travel ban on a controversial politician who attacked a flight steward with his sandal after being refused a business class seat.
Ravindra Gaikwad made national headlines after footage emerged in March of the Shiv Sena politician repeatedly striking a steward aboard an Air India flight.
He later admitted to whacking the 60-year-old steward roughly two dozen times with his sandal during the altercation over seating on a flight from Pune to New Delhi.
Gaikwad was forced to take trains after the airline filed a police complaint and banned him from its flights, prompting other airlines to follow suit.
But the ban was overturned Friday after the civil aviation ministry asked that the airline consider Mr Gaikwad’s recent apology.
“The ban placed by Air India on Mr. Gaikwad has, therefore, been lifted with immediate effect,” airline spokesman G.P. Rao said in a written statement.
“Air India, however, remains committed to ensure that its employees are not assaulted and neither misbehaved with by any passenger and would always take strong action to preserve the dignity of its employees at all times.”
The hot-headed MP had initially refused to accept fault, prompting outrage in India’s lower house Thursday when he demanded the ban be lifted.
Gaikwad even compared his predicament with prejudice to that endured by Mahatma Gandhi more than a century ago.
India’s independence icon and most famous pacifist was ejected from a first-class train carriage in British South Africa, famously spurring his quest for civil rights.
Gaikwad last month had to make the nearly 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles) journey to his hometown in western Maharashtra state by train after an airline cancelled his ticket.
The decision to overturn the ban was interpreted by some as the government caving to protect one of its own.
“Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad is now free to fly. Wish the central government had shown some spine,” one Twitter user wrote.