A soft-spoken political lightweight has achieved what others dared not attempt. In refusing to be cowed down by the bullying tactics of the Shiv Sena, the civil aviation minister, Mr Ashok Gajapathi Raju, has put the Prime Minister in the “dock”. Will Mr Narendra Modi take an upright stance and earn the admiration of all who serve the people, or will good governance be sacrificed at the altar of political expediency because the BJP remains dependent on the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra/Mumbai? Many would opine that Modi sarkar has already buckled: a no-nonsense Prime Minister would have immediately “dropped” Anant Geete from the ministerial council after he joined other Shiv Sena members of the Lok Sabha in surrounding and heckling Mr Gajapathi Raju for taking a principled position on safety being of paramount importance in airlines’ operations. The Sena has consistently defended the outrageous conduct of its MP, Ravindra Gaikwad, who shamelessly boasted having used his slipper to assault an Air India official. Some other ministers “escorted” Mr Gajapathi Raju out of the House ~ but thereafter efforts were launched to effect a “compromise” solution, something acceptable only to politicians’ skewed value-system. At the time of writing this commentary the situation was still fluid, but little sincerity is to be attached to the letter of “apology” from Gaikwad ~ certainly not after the chaos in Parliament, talk of boycotting an NDA function and threats to disrupt the operations of the national carrier at Mumbai. Apologies are of no value when insincere, and it is indeed worrying that the Speaker appears to be going soft on Sena MPs who live up to their party’s muscle-flexing reputation.
Apart from extending due support to Mr Gajapathi Raju, Mr Modi’s advisors must explain to him that all across the nation people will assess the impact on overall administration in the light of the decisions taken. Already there is much rumbling over the PM making “all the right noises” but opting for paralytic silence when goons ~ call them “vigilantes” or the “lunatic fringe” according to the convenience of the moment ~ run riot. The gravity of the situation is compounded when the goons get political backing. Air India’s functioning is not glitch-free, but even the most vicious critic of the dethroned Maharajah will condemn a staffer being thrashed by an “elected representative of the people”. Mr Narendra Modi is not a “creature” of Parliament, hence well-posited to take the bold step of having parliamentary privileges codified. The system gets derailed when the people hold MPs in low esteem. That esteem will be further lowered if Mr Modi endorses any short-cut solution ~ and pressures the airlines into carrying Gaikwad until he convinces them that he can “behave”.