India overturns travel ban on MP who whacked steward 24 times with sandal

NEW DELHI - India yesterday overturned a travel ban on a controversial politician who attacked a steward with his sandal after being refused a business-class seat on an economy-only flight.

Mr Ravindra Gaikwad made national headlines after footage emerged in March of the Shiv Sena politician repeatedly striking the steward aboard an Air India flight.

He later admitted to whacking the 60-year-old steward roughly two dozen times with his sandal during the altercation over seating on a flight from Pune to New Delhi. He initially refused to leave the plane after landing and delayed the aircraft's next journey.

Mr Gaikwad was forced to take trains after the airline filed a police complaint and banned him from its flights, prompting other airlines to follow suit. But the ban was overturned yesterday after the Civil Aviation Ministry asked that the airline consider Mr Gaikwad's recent apology.

"The ban placed by Air India on Mr Gaikwad has, therefore, been lifted with immediate effect," airline spokesman G.P. Rao said in a written statement. The airline added that it remains committed to ensuring that its employees are not assaulted by any passenger, and said it would take action to preserve the dignity of its employees at all times.

The hot-headed MP had initially refused to accept that he was in the wrong, prompting outrage in India's Lower House on Thursday when he demanded that the ban be lifted.

The decision to overturn the ban was interpreted by some as the government caving in to protect one of its own. "Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad is now free to fly. Wish the central government had shown some spine," one Twitter user wrote.