Member of Parliament from Telugu Desam Party, J.C. Diwakara Reddy has dragged Union Civil Aviation Minister P. Ashok Gajapathi Raju’s ministry to the Hyderabad High Court over the no-fly order imposed on him by nine domestic airlines after a squabble at the Visakhapatnam airport on 16 June. Gajapathi Raju represents the TDP in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Union Cabinet.
The issue is expected to figure in the monsoon session of Parliament, which begins on Monday, 17 July, as it presents the unique spectacle of an MP filing a case against a Union Ministry headed by his own party’s minister. The MP sought relief from the HC on 10 July, Monday.
Efforts made by senior TDP leaders to sort out the issue by making Diwakar Reddy apologise to IndiGo airline have gone in vain in the last two weeks. Diwakar Reddy misbehaved with the counter staff of IndiGo at Visakhapatnam airport last month, when he was denied a boarding pass as he came late to catch a Hyderabad bound flight. The IndiGo staff lodged a complaint with the Ministry of Civil Aviation as well as the Airports Authority of India, stating that the MP had damaged their computers and printer and also assaulted a manager when he was denied a boarding pass. The local police recovered the CCTV footage that captured the incident and filed a case against the MP.
After that, besides IndiGo, eight other domestic airlines too imposed a flying ban on the MP, since he refused to tender an apology for his behaviour. Immediately after the incident, the MP left for a two-week long Europe tour and returned home around 30 June. On 9 July, he booked a ticket with True Jet from Hyderabad to Vijayawada, but the airline denied him a boarding pass as he was on the banned list.
The 72-year-old MP told the HC in his petition that “at this age, I cannot find any alternate mode of transport than airlines for my domestic travelling. Hence, I urge the HC to declare the ban on my travel by nine domestic airlines since June 16 as illegal.” The MP also mentioned in his petition that the Union Civil Aviation Minister was present at the Visakhapatnam airport when the incident took place.
TDP president and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu did his best to avoid a fracas between the MP and the airlines by trying to persuade him to tender an apology to the aggrieved air staff, but the latter refused to budge from his stand that he had not done any wrong and there was no need for any apology.
Naidu sent TDP’s senior MP CM Ramesh to Diwakar Reddy to see to it that the issue was not blown out of proportion. But Diwakar Reddy even threatened to resign from his MP post, if he was forced to apologise to the IndiGo staff. Diwakar Reddy is a senior leader with over three decades of standing in politics, mostly in Congress, until 2014, and is a tough nut to crack for TDP leaders.
Naidu is concerned that a situation may arise in Parliament where Gajapathi Raju is seen arguing against his own party MP.
Sources close to Diwakar Reddy told this newspaper on Saturday that they were hoping that the MP would use the Lok Sabha as a forum to express his regrets, in connection with the incident. “We hope that will settle the issue and he will be allowed to fly,” said a source close to Diwakar Reddy. The case will come up for hearing in the HC by 31 July.