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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2900

Wahab vs Pilot

By Allabaksh - Syndicate Features

Correspondents who wrote to various newspapers after a spat between a Rajya Sabha member from Kerala, K.P. Wahab, and Rajat Rana, an Indian Airlines (now called Air India) pilot, found fault with the MP. That was hardly surprising. But the real surprise will come if in the end the pilot is not made to suffer in whatever form, whether or not he was at fault. In India when two elite sections fight the verdict is generally in favour of the one who is comparatively lesser privileged. The MP will surely continue to fly smilingly in machines run by people he contemptuously calls ‘glorified drivers’.

It is a fact of life that politicians in this country have enormous prerogatives and privileges, especially those fortunate enough to be law makers. Till some years ago a synonym for them used to be ‘the New Maharajas’. Now there are so many of them that the term seems to have lost its bite and gone out of use!

The politicians in general and MPs in particular are entitled to speak and act in whatever manner they please without the fear of being answerable to anyone, least of all the law of the land. Their utterances inside parliament are even protected by law.

The privileges of members of parliament in India are patterned after those enjoyed by MPs in Britain since the 17th century. It was then that the MPs of Britain had bestowed upon themselves the right to say—in Parliament, mind you—whatever they liked without the risk of facing defamation charges. In India and perhaps in Britain too, conventions and statutes since then have helped convert that freedom of the MPs as ‘absolute’.

An honest introspection will suggest that in India politicians are not the only ones who can be boorish. There are many other sections that are drunk with power, suffer from exaggerated self-esteem and have hugely inflated egos. By no means can it be said that politicians are the only class that misuses or exploits its special position in this country. They may be in majority, but the vast population of ‘aam admi’ (ordinary citizens) is the only non-privileged section that has to depend on luck, not law, to escape harassment of various sorts in everyday life.

A lot of unwritten privileges come with the clout that one enjoys by virtue of one’s profession—and wealth. Airline pilots who take home a healthy six-figure monthly salary—way above the average Indian’s salary-- are no less privileged. There is absolutely no reason to think that pilots are angels; they can be as ill-mannered as any politician or anyone else who is perceived to be less powerful. Might is always right in India.

And since the bureaucrats are the de facto rulers in the land how can they be considered less privileged? Nearly every scribe worth his or her salt imagines that he or she carries the burden of running the country. This onerous job places the power of the fourth estate on par with that of the almighty politicians, if not above him!

The list of the privileged category in India is long but the short part of the story is that God help the ‘aam admi’ who for some reason faces the wrath of anyone from the more privileged sections. Those who think that privileges--and immunity that comes with it—are heaped too generously on politicians can only live in envy.

To go back to the April 8 episode at Kozhikode airport, the MP and the pilot have their own versions that make it difficult to say with some certainty who was at fault. But it is not about judging the guilt. There are wider issues. Reconstructing on the basis of media reports, it would appear that when the MP arrived at the airport for boarding his flight to the Gulf he was received by the airport manager, who ‘escorted’ him to the plane. The plane was apparently delayed, either because the VIP had not boarded in time or maybe for any other reason. As a result, the pilot was upset and reportedly shouted at the manager. The MP says that he could not bear to see the manager being humiliated by the airline pilot and in the process incurred the wrath of the pilot.

The pilot claims that the MP entered the cockpit of the aircraft when he took up cudgels on behalf the airport manager. A verbal dual between the MP and the pilot followed during the course of which the pilot reportedly said that politicians should confine themselves to the business of running the country and leave the job of flying the airplanes to the pilots.

The MP was enraged and he admitted--several times-- that he called the pilot a ‘glorified driver’. The MP did not think that he had used a derogatory term, though it is certain that very few Indians would agree with the MP, given the country’s long tradition of looking down upon low-paid jobs whether ‘menial’ or clerical or whatever. In a status conscious society like ours, drivers occupy a lower position than their masters who hire them, even though quite a few of the former (drivers) now get a fairly decent salary.

The MP has threatened to bring a privilege motion against the pilot while the Indian Commercial Pilots Association has lined up behind the pilot. The MP faces a counter threat of being ‘banned’ from all flights manned by the ICPA. The pilots’ association maintains that the MP had entered the cockpit—a gross violation of security regulations and the law—to hand a dressing down to the pilot who, according to the association, was right in having the MP off-loaded as a consequence of this breach.

The Kozhikode airport incident will in due course be over and forgotten. But certain questions need to be addressed if a repeat of the incident is to be avoided. As far as the MP is concerned why should all politicians be treated as very special passengers at airports where they are exempted from the long drill that is obligatory for the paying public—like reporting very early and standing in queues, not to mention the threat of being off-loaded even without getting into an altercation with an airline staff? There is an ocean of difference in the amenities in the so-called ‘VIP lounge’ and halls where the harried passengers wait—sometime for hours.

Politicians’ stock may be low in the country but if frequent fliers are to be believed most of the airline and airport staff in the country are grossly deficient in courtesy and consideration towards passengers.

As long as the politicians and the airline staff continue to operate under the present mindset that places emphasis on one’s position and privileges the Wahab Vs Pilot story will surely be repeated in future.

- Syndicate Features -

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