Former president APJ Abdul Kalam was subjected to a body search for the first time by employees of a US airline in Delhi when he was boarding a flight in April to Newark, his office said on Tuesday, adding he does go through the standard security drill while travelling abroad.
The issue created a storm in the Rajya Sabha with Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel promising a probe into the incident and saying a show-cause notice would be sent to the carrier.
"He did not complain when he was frisked and took in his stride. Everyone was being checked and so was he," said Kalam's personal secretary H Sheridan.
Kalam was frisked by the ground staff of Continental Airlines at the Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGI) when he was on the aerobridge while boarding the non-stop flight to Newark, New Jersey.
"He had left the ceremonial lounge and there were a few airlines staff on the aerobridge who were checking passengers," said Sheridan.
"Till date he has not been frisked while leaving India. That was the first occasion. However, when he travels abroad he goes through the regular drill of going through detectors but that is minimal," Sheridan told IANS.
India has a list of VIPs exempted from routine security checks and frisking. This is applicable even when they are travelling by commercial flights.
The list includes the president, vice-president, prime minister, former presidents, Lok Sabha Speaker, chief ministers, chief justices of the Supreme Court and high courts, the cabinet secretary, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and members of her family.
The airline has defended its action stating it was company policy to conduct security checks on all passengers and it did not make a distinction for VIPs.
Since he stepped down from office in July 2007, Kalam has been a regular traveller abroad, invited by universities and think tanks for lectures and attending seminars.
"He has been to the US alone four times already and is off again in September for receiving an award from the California Institute of Technology," Sheridan said.
"We just got back from Dhaka this afternoon where the former president was given royal treatment."
Kalam was in Dhaka on a three-day visit and met with Bangladeshi Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus and attended a dinner hosted by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and President Zillur Rahman.
This is not the first time that Indian politicians or VIPs have been subjected to frisking.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was forced to undergo security checks at the ceremonial lounge at Moscow airport last year while he was on his way back to India, creating a diplomatic flutter.
However, former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee called off a scheduled official visit to London in October last year after he was told he would be frisked at Heathrow airport. He was then invited by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
That was the second time Chatterjee cancelled a foreign trip for the same reason. In April 2005, he called off a trip to Sydney after the government refused to exempt him from security frisking.