Moments after comedian Kunal Kamra was banned by IndiGo Airlines for heckling a TV channel editor on one of its flights on Tuesday, the government announced that it was urging other airlines to do the same. On cue, Air India, SpiceJet and GoAir declared they had banned Mr Kamra.
"Offensive behaviour designed to provoke & create disturbance inside an aircraft is absolutely unacceptable and endangers safety of air travellers. We are left with no option but to advise other airlines to impose similar restrictions on the person concerned," Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri posted on Twitter.
All the airlines tagged Mr Puri in their tweets announcing their compliance.
The chain reaction was seen by many as excessive and has triggered a huge debate online, with the controversy quickly becoming one of the top trends on Twitter. Many have called out the airlines on double standards.
In 2017, when the government had introduced rules about blacklisting disruptive passengers, they had said all airlines are not obliged to block a person banned by other carriers.
Mr Kamra, a Mumbai-based stand-up comic known for his sharply critical views against the government and government-friendly media networks, was banned by the three airlines after he posted a video of his encounter with Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief of Republic TV. In the video, he is seen throwing questions at Mr Goswami, who doesn't respond.
The airline ban triggered criticism from social media users who recalled how a Republic TV reporter had once similarly heckled opposition's Tejashwi Yadav, of Bihar's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), on board a flight.
"So @republic did the same thing what @kunalkamra88 did with Arnab. But only punishment to Kunal. #hypocrisy #ArnabGoswami #kunalkamra," wrote a Twitter user Prajakat Kamat.
Mr Yadav himself tweeted:
Dear Journalist, It's easy to abuse politicians but difficult to live their life. We don't hv any privacy anywhere but u hv. We are into a great thankless job of serving people & u r in bootlicking job of pleasing ur paymasters. Who's brat of Whom country knows it inside out? https://t.co/eJiifxKxHP— Tejashwi Yadav (@yadavtejashwi) January 29, 2020
It is us vs them . Us is BJP and Modi supporters who will never be penalised or punished , no matter what the crime is and then is everyone else . Total Fascism . They are not even pretending anymore .— Anurag Kashyap (@anuragkashyap72) January 29, 2020
Banning Kunal for 6 months show the hypocrisy, irrationality and shamelessness of @IndiGo6E. They are slaves of his master's voice. Clearly it's a politically coerced conspiracy. They are including in social discrimination. I quit flying with them for 6 months. #BoycottIndigohttps://t.co/89hRl6y1Wr— ???????? Let us save our India (@KrishnamHQ) January 29, 2020
Others pointed out how BJP MP Pragya Thakur, who faces charges in an ongoing terror case, had held up a flight last month and argued with crew and passengers after refusing to vacate a seat next to the emergency exit despite being on a wheelchair as required under aviation rules.
It's been over 2 months and they haven't taken any action against Pragya Thakur who created a scene using her power to circumvent flight safety rules. Didn't even take them a full day to suspend Kunal Kamra.— BullBull (@DahiiBhalla) January 29, 2020
Bunch of shameless, spineless cowards. https://t.co/oDjXwOJmDo
Sad to see where are going our democracy.....all flight are suspend kunal kamra bcoz he dare to ask only right question... sadhvi pragya was done also wrong why not take any action till now.all are in feet— Babu Siddiqui (@Babu46433818) January 29, 2020
*Kunal Kamra verbally heckles Arnab on Indigo Flight*— Ali Syed (@ali_syedd) January 29, 2020
- Spice Jet suspends him from flying with them.
*Sadhvi Pragya delays the spice Jet flight by 45 mins and had altercation with their staff*
- No action taken by Spice Jet.
Mr Kamra in a statement on Twitter said, "It's not shocking at all to me that for exercising my right to speech, which falls under Article 19 of our constitution, three airlines have given me a temporary ban from flying. Fact of the matter is that at no point was I disruptive and at no point did I not follow orders of the cabin crew or the captain. At no point did I endanger the safety of any passenger on board, the only damage I caused was to the inflated ego to the 'journalist' Arnab Goswami."
"To my limited knowledge no formal complaint has been made by the crew or Arnab or anyone else taking the flight. Whenever there was an intervention by any member of the crew I complied. If expressing myself to an important public figure, who himself points a camera day in and day out, catching people off guard is a crime, then both of us are criminals," he added.