The statement issued by Tata Sons Chairman N Chandrasekaran, that Air India fell short in addressing the incident of an inebriated passenger allegedly urinating on an elderly woman co-passenger, has done some damage control — but the tardy response to the on-air horror more than a month after it occurred does not cover the airline in glory. The obvious lapses in passenger safety and protocol warrant a close look and immediate review. The struggling official carrier of India which was only recently bought over by the Tata group is obviously in need of a thorough revamp. Mr Chandrasekaran’s statement that it was a matter of personal anguish to him and his colleagues does not mitigate the severity of the incident. Incidentally, another case of a passenger on a Paris-New Delhi flight allegedly urinating on the blanket of a female passenger who had gone to the washroom has come to light. Neither of these incidents was reported to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, though it is mandatory to do so. The DGCA has now sought a report on the issue. The Air India crew did not bother to alert security on arriving in Delhi and only attempted to arrive at a hasty compromise between the traumatised victim and the perpetrator, certainly not in their remit, perhaps to avoid a lengthy stay at the airport to brief the security staff. It is only now that the perpetrator is in custody after the public uproar over the incident.
The ‘peegate’ incident would have gone unreported if the woman’s letter to the Tata Sons chairman expressing disappointment at the insensitive nature of the cabin crew’s attitude to her anguish had not come in to the public domain. She pointed out that she was forced to sit on a crew seat and was not offered an alternative seat though there were vacancies in first class. The pilot apparently refused to upgrade her seat despite the nightmare she had undergone. The utter failure of the crew to respond with sensitivity and tact to a difficult situation is evidence that Air India needs to go back to the drawing board and retrain its staff on various matters of safety, protocol and in-flight management. The airline, which has received a second lease of life after the buyover by the Tatas, has a long way to go to retrace its glory days when the Maharaja flew high and was the toast of the country.
Tharoor’s new challenge
Shashi Tharoor has thrown his hat in the ring. In Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday he said he was ready to become chief minister of Kerala but the ultimate decision had to be taken by the people of the state. Mr Tharoor’s political ambitions are not new. After his recent failed bid for the Congress president’s post, he has been focusing on Kerala from where he is a three-time Lok Sabha member. But there is many a slip between the cup and the lip. To achieve his political goals, Mr Tharoor has to battle the acute factionalism of the Congress in the state whose leaders have always viewed him as an outsider and done their best to thwart his political moves. In the 2019 election it was only some clever strategising by Mr Tharoor and outreach to various communities that helped him retain the seat where he was almost done in by his own party colleagues.
Though the election of Mallikarjun Kharge as Congress president was a foregone conclusion, considering that he had the backing of the Nehru-Gandhi family, Mr Tharoor put up a strong fight and managed 11 per cent of the votes, quite an astonishing feat that surprised many Congress insiders, too. He is an astute and studious parliamentarian, charming everyone with his wit and scholarship. The fact that he has retained the Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha seat for three terms is an achievement in itself. Mr Tharoor has carefully cultivated his constituents and will hope to win a fourth term in 2024. Meanwhile, as he floats the CMship balloon, he may well prove to be a formidable contender among the many hopefuls in the state Congress. He will, however, have to beware of vicious personal attacks by some of his party colleagues and his Left Front rivals, the CPI-M, which has now built up a formidable troll army. Mr Tharoor’s social media flair and his large following on its many platforms may well see him through.