Did the 56-inch chest just shrink? Despite implying a reluctance to let Ravindra Gaikwad, the Shiv Sena MP who was banned by several airlines for beating up a senior employee of Air India on a plane in March for "not treating" him well, the BJP-led government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi ultimately gave in before its NDA ally by asking the national airliner to un-blacklist the parliamentarian.
The Sena had backed Gaikwad over the issue and also threatened to boycott the NDA meeting scheduled for April 10 if the matter was not resolved soon. Party MP Sanjay Raut said Gaikwad was being unfairly treated. According to him, if "rapists, terrorists and even Kashmiri separatists" could travel in planes, why not Gaikwad? The Sena was particularly not impressed after Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathy Raju implied that he had no interest in lifting the ban from on Gaikwad.
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But the Sena ultimately prevailed and it was a sad reflection on part of the BJP. Did Modi's party succumb to the fact that dragging the matter further could see the Sena sinking its government in Maharashtra? Modi should have just done the opposite by not allowing Gaikwad to get away even if that involved the Sena threatening to withdraw from the Devendra Fadnavis government in Maharashtra.
Sena misbehaves, blackmails and eventually arm-twists govt
The Sena's blackmailing tactics were understandable, particularly in the backdrop of its never-ending cold war with the BJP which at times threatens to turn hot. Gaikwad though said in his own defence that he had taken the extreme step on the flight as the employee had also targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in effect, he and his party are playing the defensive-offensive game to score some brownie points vis-a-vis the senior ally in the BJP.
"It's a black day"
Captain T Praveen Keerthi, general secretary, Indian Commercial Pilots' Association (ICPA) said the decision to lift the ban was indeed unfortunate. Speaking to International Business Times, India, Captain Keerthi said: "We are very disappointed. The man got away just because he is influential. Had any ordinary unruly passenger was involved in this, the consequences would have been different." Are they planning to take this matter up further? To this, Captain Keerthi said they would decide on further steps. He also said that the aviation ministry had informed that the MP had tendered an apology to Air India. "I hope flying in Indian skies remains safe after this," he said.
But had the BJP taken a strong stand on the matter, the Sena would have eventually crumbled under pressure and not the Fadnavis government.
The BJP is on a roll; yet it capitulated
The BJP is on a roll at the moment. Although it has to depend on the Sena for its government's survival in Maharashtra, the BJP's recent results in local polls in Maharashtra and Odisha and Assembly elections in a number of states have made it an extremely confident lot.
On Wednesday (April 5), the BJP bagged the mayoral post for the first time in Ulhasnagar Municipal Corporation beating the Sena while in Mumbai, where the BJP came back from nowhere to finish just two seats short of the Sena in the BMC polls, the saffron party joined hands with the Congress and Samajwadi Party to defeat the Sena's proposal to get teak-made chairs and tables for civic schools.
Apparently, these look small instances but they speak enough about the undercurrents in the BJP-Sena rivalry despite being allies.
If Modi stresses on clean governance, how does people like Gaikwad get away?
Being a national party which is on a voyage to discover new bases across the country, the BJP should have never allowed a local outfit like Sena to take the upper hand whatsoever. By lifting the ban on Gaikwad, PM Modi gave the message to the unruly elements that they are untouchable. For a popular leader who has always put emphasis on clean governance, will this episode really do his image any good?
A stubborn BJP would have broken Sena
Had the BJP refused to lift the ban, the Sena would have been surely divided over supporting the Fadnavis government. One, they need to be in power in both state and Centre to remain relevant in the days to come and secondly, with Uddhav Thackeray nowhere near the magical charm of his late father Balasaheb, the ineffectiveness of the party's leadership to get the ban lifted would have weakened it further. From the BJP's perspective, a snap poll would not have been as bad as it might seem and give it a chance to go for a decisive mandate, making the disruptive Sena redundant.
But it did not turn out to be. The Sena was given a boost and now the Fadnavis government and the people of Maharashtra in general would have to keep prepared for many more onslaughts from the Sena.
Modi has been trying a lot to executive economic reforms. Here he missed a chance to carry out a vital political reform.