Reports that Bhagwant Mann was removed from a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Delhi because he was drunk have triggered a huge outcry with opposition parties saying the Punjab Chief Minister has "shamed Punjabis" across the world.
On Sunday, Bhagwant Mann was to take the 1.40 pm flight from Frankfurt, which was already delayed. The flight finally took off at 4.30 pm. Mr Mann reportedly took a different flight, in the early hours of Monday.
Mr Mann's aides say he delayed his return to Delhi as he was unwell. His party AAP (Aam Aadmi Party) has accused the opposition of "spreading propaganda".
AAP shared Lufthansa's statement, which said its flight left later than planned because of a "delayed inbound flight and an aircraft change".
Opposition parties seized on reports that said Mr Mann was drunk and the flight was delayed by four hours because of him.
"Disturbing media reports quoting co-passengers say Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann was deplaned from a Lufthansa flight as he was too drunk to walk. And it led to a 4-hour flight delay. He missed AAP's national convention. These reports have embarrassed and shamed Punjabis all over the globe," tweeted Akali Dal leader Sukhbir Singh Badal.
Disturbing media reports quoting co-passengers say Pb CM @BhagwantMann was deplaned from Lufthansa flight as he was too drunk to walk. And it led to a 4-hour flight delay. He missed AAP's national convention. These reports have embarrassed & shamed Punjabis all over the globe.1/2 pic.twitter.com/QxFN44IFAE— Sukhbir Singh Badal (@officeofssbadal) September 19, 2022
"Shockingly, Punjab government is mum over these reports involving their CM Bhagwant Mann, Arvind Kejriwal needs to come clean on this issue. The government of India must step in as this involves Punjabi and national pride. If he was deplaned, the government of India must raise the issue with its German counterpart," he added.
The Congress tweeted the news report that quoted a passenger on the Delhi-bound Lufthansa flight in Frankfurt as saying that the Chief Minister was drunk
Mr Mann "was not steady on his feet as he had imbibed excessive alcohol and had to be supported by his wife and security personnel accompanying him," the passenger was quoted as saying.
A Big Shame!!— Delhi Congress (@INCDelhi) September 19, 2022
Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann deplaned because he was heavily Drunk pic.twitter.com/7PaPSiVDtb
Malwinder Singh Kang, AAP spokesperson, demanded an apology from Sukhbir Badal and the Congress for making "unverified" allegations. "The Chief Minister returned on September 19 as scheduled. All these social media reports are propaganda. The opposition is rattled because Mr Mann is effectively getting some investment from his foreign trip...you can also check with Lufthansa airlines," said the AAP leader.
The airline's statement said: "Our flight from Frankfurt to Delhi departed later than originally planned due to a delayed inbound flight and an aircraft change. For data protection reasons we do not provide any information regarding individual passengers."
Our flight from Frankfurt to Delhi departed later than originally planned due to a delayed inbound flight and an aircraft change. Best regards— Lufthansa News (@lufthansaNews) September 19, 2022
Mr Mann visited Germany from September 11 to 18 to attract investments and tie-ups, according to the state government.
The comic-turned-politician became Chief Minister in March after AAP swept the Punjab election, besting rivals like the BJP and Congress. Mr Mann has emphatically denied ever reneging on his vow to quit drinking at a public event in 2019, with his mother by his side.