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Pragya Thakur's Airline Fracas Shows India's Netas Yet to Understand Days of Feudal Behaviour Are Long Over

The unruly behaviour of Indian politicians stands out in sharp contrast to the manner in which their counterparts abroad conduct themselves.

Anita Katyal |

Updated:December 24, 2019, 2:58 PM IST
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Pragya Thakur's Airline Fracas Shows India's Netas Yet to Understand Days of Feudal Behaviour Are Long Over
File photo of Bhopal BJP MP Pragya Thakur in Lok Sabha.

Bharatiya Janata Party MP Pragya Thakur has a penchant for courting controversies. She normally hits the headlines for consistently glorifying Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse but last week the saffron-clad lawmaker was in the news for a different reason.

Thakur delayed a flight when the airline staff did not allow the wheelchair-bound MP to sit in the seat she had pre-booked as rules do not permit wheelchair passengers in the emergency row seat. An adamant Thakur refused to budge and instead got into a war of words with the airline staff, insisting that she be shown the rule-book.

This is not the first time that the Bhopal MP, also an accused in the Malegoan blast case, has embarrassed her party but the BJP leadership can do little besides distancing itself from her statements and actions.

During the May Lok Sabha elections, Thakur created problems for the BJP when she described Godse as a “desh bhakt”. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had then upbraided her, publicly declaring that he would never forgive her for insulting Gandhi.

Yet, she repeated the same in the Lok Sabha during a debate in the last Parliament session. She was forced to apologise when the opposition created a furore, pushing the BJP on the defensive.

However, the latest airline episode has catapulted the controversial MP to the big league of Indian politicians who demand special privileges at airports, on flights and toll plazas and throw tantrums if officials do not fall in line. “Don’t you know who I am” is a refrain repeated frequently by angry lawmakers in case they are meted out the same treatment as other tax-paying citizens. Written complaints, threats of suspension and even violence are often resorted to by these so-called “aggrieved” MPs and state legislators.

To be fair, this boorish behaviour and sense of self-entitlement is not confined to any single political party. There was a time when the BJP would accuse the Congress leaders of throwing their weight around, which was often put down to the “arrogance of power” and the belief that they were “born to rule.”. But now that all political parties have had a stint in power, their leaders have also joined this elite club and the BJP is no exception.

Earlier this year, former BJP MP Ram Shankar Katheria was in the eye of a storm, with the police even filing against him, when a video clip showed his security staff had resorted to firing in the air and also roughed up toll plaza employees in Agra. The incident came on the heels of an equally unedifying report from Madhya Pradesh about BJP legislator Akash Vijayvargiya, son of party general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, who was arrested for allegedly attacking a local official in Indore with a cricket bat. A number of cases were registered against the first-time MLA but little is known about how this case is progressing.

Some years ago, MLAs from rival political parties in Maharashtra joined hands in accusing toll plaza employees of humiliating them and asking them to pay toll tax. Three legislators — Abdul Momin of Samajwadi Party, Anil Kadam of the Shiv Sena and Sirishkumar Kotwal (independent) — flew into a rage in separate incidents and misbehaved with the staff, including women, when asked to show their identity cards.

Then there is the classic case of former Congress MP Vitthal Radadia, who brandished a gun at a Vadadora toll booth for the same reason. He was subsequently inducted into the BJP. Instead of taking action against the errant lawmakers, their collective pressure forced the Manmohan Singh government to exempt MPs and state legislators from paying toll tax while traveling on highways in their home states.

The toll plaza story is repeated at airports. Our politicians get offended if they are asked to go through a security check, get upset if they are not escorted or treated reverentially, hold up flights and even get violent if they can’t have their way.

Two years ago, a furious Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad hit an Air India employee with a slipper because he had to travel in economy class though he held a business class ticket. The airline’s explanation that it was an all-economy flight cut no ice with the MP who later admitted he beat up the employee but insisted that the airline should apologise to him since its staff had misbehaved with him.

This unruly behaviour of Indian politicians stands out in sharp contrast to the manner in which their counterparts abroad conduct themselves. It is not unusual to read reports of lawmakers in the West using public transport or standing patiently in queues at airports. More recently, the Royal Swedish couple — King Carl Gustaf Folke Hubertus and Queen Silvia Renate Sommerlath — travelled on an Air India flight and were photographed at the Delhi airport carrying their own hand baggage, an absolute no-no for our desi “royals”.

Clearly, our VIPs are yet to understand that the days of such “feudal” behaviour are long over and politicians no longer have the same “aura” as they did decades ago. Times have changed and so have attitudes. The political class has lost its credibility and the youth is particularly disillusioned with it. And the young certainly don’t have any patience with politicians who demand preferential treatment and privileges as a right. It is time Indian politicians took note of these changing attitudes. Or else they will end up alienating their future voters.

(The author is a senior journalist. Views expressed are personal)

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