POLITI­CIANS AND THEIR PLANE TRUTHS

The Economic Times - - Companies -

Ra­jiv Gandhi’s smooth land­ing into pol­i­tics from a ca­reer as a pi­lot—like Orissa’s late chief min­is­ter Biju Pat­naik’s be­fore him—led many politi­cians of dif­fer­ent shades take to the skies to hone their fly­ing skills as a hobby, launch their own air­line ser­vice or even make for­ays into commercial fly­ing.

BJP MP from Saran, Ra­jiv Pratap Rudy, 51, did the op­po­site of Gandhi by start­ing out as a politi­cian and then ven­tur­ing into fly­ing. “I be­gan fly­ing in 2010 when I got a pri­vate pi­lot li­cense. Then I got a Commercial Pi­lot Li­cense from the Patna Fly­ing Club. I fly A-320 commercial planes for an air­line as an hon­orary pi­lot,” Rudy, who was civil avi­a­tion min­is­ter in the NDA govern­ment, told ET.

Other than Gandhi- who was an In­dian Air­lines pi­lot be­fore he en­tered pol­i­tics— Rudy is the only politi­cian who has flown a commercial plane on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. He made it to the Limca Book of Records as the only par­lia­men­tar­ian who flies a commercial A-320 plane. His pas­sion for fly­ing led him to do a two month course in Mi­ami, Florida where he learnt to fly the big bird. Not sur­pris­ingly, he has logged in more than 1,000 hours of fly­ing since then.

“The dif­fer­ence be­tween Ra­jiv Gandhi and me is that he was a pi­lot who en­tered pol­i­tics while I was a politi­cian who be­came a commercial pi­lot,” Rudy said.

Rahul Gandhi is also said to have learnt fly­ing skills, ac­cord­ing to sources, but chose his fa­ther’s sec­ond pro­fes­sion.

Sev­eral of the young Turks in pol­i­tics have flown planes and chop­pers as a hobby. For­mer union min­is­ter Sachin Pi­lot, a part of the Rahul Gandhi cir­cle, once said that he learnt fly­ing as he was of­ten teased by friends that he had “pi­lot” as a sur­name but could not fly a plane.

Jay Panda, 50, BJD MP from Ken­dra­para, flies his own chop­per. He would hop from one place to an­other in his he­li­copter dur­ing the just con­cluded Lok Sabha elec­tion cam­paign.

How­ever, it is Biju Pat­naik, fa­ther of Odisha Chief Min­is­ter Naveen Pat­naik, who is the most fa­mous Oriya in the field of fly­ing. He saved In­done­sian rebel (who later be­came pres­i­dent) Sukarno’s daugh­ter Me­gawati by fly­ing her out of the trou­ble-torn coun­try. Pat­naik was even in­volved with the erst­while Kalinga Air­lines.

TMC leader and for­mer rail­way min­is­ter Di­nesh Trivedi also flies planes as a hobby, ac­cord­ing to sources.

Rudy is not the only for­mer civil avi­a­tion min­is­ter who took to the skies. NCP leader Praful Pa­tel also flies planes- though not the big commercial ones. He opened a fly­ing school in Gon­dia-Bhan­dara, the con­stituency in Ma­ha­rash­tra that he rep­re­sented in the last Lok Sabha but faced a crush­ing de­feat this time. Ra­jiv Chan­drasekhar, the busi­ness ty­coon turned MP from Kar­nataka, also flies his own plane. The tribe of politi­cians who own planes, chop­pers or even fly­ing clubs that pro­vide char­tered ser­vices has in­creased over the years. Pun­jab Chief Min­is­ter Parkash Singh Badal’s fam­ily owns Or­bit, a group which has a chop­per- a Bell-49- and a Cessna plane. These birds have PSB- the ini­tials of the CM- en­graved on them. Badal’s pre­de­ces­sor Cap­tain Amarinder Singh, who de­feated BJP’s Arun Jait­ley in Am­rit­sar, also knows how to fly planes, ac­cord­ing to sources. The Ma­jithia fam­ily, deputy Pun­jab chief min­is­ter Sukhbir Badal’s in-laws, own an air­line called Saraya Avi­a­tion Pvt Ltd.

The Lok Sabha elec­tions saw sev­eral of these oper­a­tors pro­vid­ing planes to politi­cians for cam­paign­ing.

Cap­tain Gu­lab Singh, owner of Saarthi Air­ways Pvt Ltd, sup­plies planes to the BJP and a few other par­ties. He also has the oner­ous task of en­sur­ing that the BJP brass get their planes and chop­pers at the right time and place.

“Ever since the se­cu­rity of BJP’s prime min­is­te­rial can­di­date Naren­dra Modi was up­graded, we had to co­or­di­nate with Gand­hi­na­gar on a daily ba­sis dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign,” he told ET.

Two planes were kept for Modi dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign as he used to re­turn to Gand­hi­na­gar late night ev­ery day and fly out the next morn­ing. The pi­lots had to be given ad­e­quate rest as per DGCA rules and Modi used to leave Gand­hi­na­gar in the morn­ing for his gru­el­ing sched­ule of five ral­lies across two states in a day. He would use the plane—and chop­pers that would be sent in ad­vance from dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions—to reach the venue of the pub­lic meet­ings, ac­cord­ing to Singh.

Both planes—Em­braers— used by Modi be­long to Adani Group-owned Kar­na­vati Avi­a­tion.

Gu­lab Singh’s job was not just to pro­vide his own planes but to ar­range the fly­ing ma­chines from other oper­a­tors as well as han­dle the pi­lots, fuel and other lo­gis­tics.

In­ter­est­ingly, Singh does not pro­vide air ser­vices to BJP’s ri­val Congress.

“Trust be­tween the politi­cians and the oper­a­tors is very im­por­tant. Even in the US, you will find that the Repub­li­cans and Democrats do not use the ser­vices of the same oper­a­tors and avi­a­tion com­pa­nies,” Singh ex­plains.

His com­pany used to pro­vide planes and chop­pers to NDA ally JD (U) but stopped af­ter the party walked out of the NDA last year. How­ever, Saarthi Air­ways counts RJ and LJP among its clients. Cap­tain Singh has been han­dling th and chop­pers for BJP for more than a now and en­joys the trust of BJP chief Singh and vet­eran LK Ad­vani, among Congress leader Ka­mal Nath has a

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.