Indian MP Tejasvi Surya accused of opening plane's emergency door

Incident is the latest in a series of aviation controversies in the country

An IndiGo plane at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Airport in Mumbai. EPA
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India’s civil aviation authority has ordered an investigation after a passenger — reportedly an MP from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party — opened the emergency door of a plane, causing panic among those aboard the aircraft.

A passenger on an Indigo flight from southern Chennai to Tiruchirapalli in Tamil Nadu accidentally opened the emergency door during boarding last December, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation said on Tuesday.

“The passenger immediately apologised for their action. As per standard operating protocols, the incident was logged and the aircraft underwent mandatory engineering checks, which led to a delay in the flight's departure,” the authority said.

While the regulatory body did not name the passenger, several media reports said it was Tejasvi Surya, a parliamentarian from Bengaluru city.

Mr Surya is known from his strong Hindutva pitch and inflammatory speeches against minority communities, mainly Muslims.

An eyewitness told the The News Minute website that the incident occurred as members of the cabin crew briefed passengers on safety protocols and that Mr Surya, who was sitting near one of the emergency exits, “pulled the lever”, opening one of the emergency exit doors.

“Immediately, we were all deplaned and made to sit in a bus,” the passenger said.

Mr Surya was reportedly made to apologise.

The incident — the latest in a series of aviation controversies in India — led to opposition leaders criticising the government for its influence over airlines and for not revealing the passenger’s name or taking action against him.

“The BJP VIP Brats! How dare the airline complain? Is it the norm for the BJP power elite? Did it compromise passenger safety? Ohhh! U can’t ask questions about BJP’s entitled VIPs!” Congress parliamentarian Randeep Singh Surjewala said on Twitter.

Priyanka Chaturvedi, a parliamentarian from Maharashtra-based Shiv Sena, and an old ally of the BJP, lashed out at the airline for not taking immediate action against the passenger.

“What if this happened once the aircraft had taken off rather than when it was taxiing on the runway, should an apology suffice?” Ms Chaturvedi said.

The incident comes just a week after a Go First Airways flight from southern Bengaluru to capital Delhi departed without 55 passengers who were left in an airport bus.

India’s aviation industry has in recent weeks come under the spotlight after details emerged of two incidents of passengers allegedly urinating on women.

One passenger was arrested after urinating on a woman, 70, on a flight from New York to Delhi in November. He was also sacked from his job as vice-president in the Bengaluru office of Wells Fargo, an American multinational financial company.

A second passenger, on a Paris-to-Delhi flight on December 6, was taken into custody on arrival in the Indian capital. He was later released by federal police after submitting a written apology and reaching an understanding with the victim.

Cabin crew failed to immediately take action after either incident.

Updated: January 18, 2023, 11:42 AM