BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi said on Tuesday that he wanted the Election Commission to investigate why his private flights from Delhi and Uttar Pradesh to address rallies were delayed for hours for the first time ever, throwing his campaign schedule haywire.
Civil aviation ministry officials said the delays happened because the company handling Modi’s flying plans submitted the flight plan “late.”
Unwilling to accept this explanation, both Modi and the BJP have blamed the central government for the hold-ups. Modi is expected to address around 185 rallies in the run-up to the polls.
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Senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley even called up civil aviation secretary Ashok Lavasa to find out what was the “real” reason for the delays. This is the first time Modi has faced such delays since being declared the BJP’s PM candidate last September, Jaitley told HT.
On Tuesday, two of Modi’s flights were delayed by one to two hours. The Gujarat CM was scheduled to leave from Delhi for a rally in Bareilly, UP, on Tuesday morning but his flight was delayed by about 90 minutes. Modi had to wait again for about an hour in the afternoon enroute to Rewa in Madhya Pradesh.
The BJP has also formally complained to chief election commissioner VS Sampath, saying such delays upset Modi’s schedule, forcing him to cancel rallies. It has asked the Election Commission to direct the civil aviation ministry and its field staff to be flexible with flight schedules of VVIPs like Modi and ensure that clearances were given expeditiously.
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“Modi was delayed for 55 minutes in Bareilly. Congress is playing dirty games to derail our PM candidate’s rallies. The public is watching everything and will give a befitting reply,” said Chandramohan, UP BJP spokesperson.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi dismissed the BJP’s allegations. “We have given full support to Modi to freely roam, campaign and sell his lies in the huge planes funded by his rich friends. Our only reservation is with his credibility.”
Aviation officials are said to have told BJP leaders that the Ahmedabad-based Karnavati Aviation Limited, which handles Modi’s air transport, submitted the flight plan just 10 minutes before Modi was to take off from Delhi. This, said the officials, forced Air Traffic Control to deny clearance. The delay had a “spillover effect” when Modi was to fly onwards from Bareilly to Rewa, they said.
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Speaking at the Bareilly rally, Modi said though he arrived at the Delhi airport at 9.30 am, neither his plane nor helicopter was allowed to take off. “I rushed to Bareilly the moment my flight was cleared. I apologise for having kept you waiting in the humid weather. But I had no control over this,” said Modi, wrapping up his speech early.
Delays continued to dog the Gujarat CM who had to wait in his helicopter at Bareilly for nearly an hour before taking off for Pantnagar at 2.12 pm from where he boarded a flight to Rewa.
At his Rewa rally, Modi again apologised for his late arrival. “My helicopter was not allowed to take off for over three hours in Bareilly. I want the EC to investigate,” he said.
Tuesday also saw Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh having to wait nearly 50 minutes for his helicopter to take off from Raipur to Raigarh. Singh had to wait for 40 minutes again in Raigarh before he could fly to Janjgir.
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Meanwhile, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s flight to Gumla from Ranchi was cancelled on Tuesday after pilots detected smoke in the helicopter’s engine.
Gandhi subsequently left for Gaya on special chartered flight and then reached Aurangabad by helicopter for his campaign.
(With inputs from Manish Pandey in Lucknow, Deepak Mahato and Brajesh Verma in Gumla)
Full Coverage: Lok Sabha elections 2014