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NDA leader dragged into seat-swap row

Patna, Aug. 23: Smarting from the humiliation of being shunted to a third-row airline seat, Rabri Devi today accused an NDA leader of masterminding the “manipulation” and threatened to take the issue to the Prime Minister.

Vowing to launch a campaign to “expose” the underhand machinations of the NDA leaders, a fuming Laloo Prasad Yadav said: “This was done at the behest of NDA leaders and ministers who were travelling by the same flight. The chief minister’s reserved seat in the front row of the J class was vacated, and she was asked to sit in the third row to accommodate Dr C.P. Thakur.”

The incident occurred on Wednesday evening when the Bihar chief minister was returning from Delhi by an Indian Airlines flight after leading a delegation to the Prime Minister. Airline staff allegedly asked her to vacate the front-row seat she was sitting in and move to the third row to make place for former Union health minister C.P. Thakur.

Two other NDA leaders and a Dalit activist on board the same plane were allotted front-row seats. These included junior commerce minister Rajiv Pratap Singh Rudi, junior railway minister Digvijay Singh and SC/ST Commission member Vijay Choudhary.

Laloo alleged that the seats were swapped to “deliberately demoralise a backward caste woman who was travelling alone”. Rabri claimed that the incident was not only an “insult to the people of Bihar” but also to women in general.

Reiterating its threat to “expose” the NDA, the RJD recalled a similar incident in the seventies where then chief minister Sri Krishna Singh was refused a Kalka Mail ticket by a Dhanbad railway super. Singh had threatened then rail minister Jagjivan Ram that he would stop trains from passing through Bihar.

Thakur expressed surprise that his name had been dragged into the controversy. Claiming he had no hand in any “manipulation”, he said: “I came just minutes before take-off and was not aware that Rabri Devi was sitting there. Her ticket was not confirmed, so it might have been shifted to 3A. I don’t think the IA staff, who were suspended were at fault. The confusion was created by the chief minister’s security and protocol officer.”

Backward leader Chowdhary said that finding Rabri upset, he had gone up to her and offered to swap seats. But she had snubbed him, saying she was not asking for charity.

The BJP has retaliated to the charges heaped on it by Laloo, with Sushil Kumar Modi saying the image of the state was being tarnished by the awkward behaviour of Rabri who neither understood English nor the formalities of air travel.

“She should not be allowed to travel alone if Laloo Prasad Yadav wants sincerely to protect the image of Bihar. He is making a false hue and cry over this,” he said.

Laloo today released the IA’s inquest list of passengers dated August 21 to prove that Rabri’s name was on it and Thakur’s wasn’t.

He also released the letter from Shahnawaz Husain in which the civil aviation minister apologised to Rabri and informed her that he had suspended the errant staffers. Copies of the passenger list, Husain’s letter and Rabri’s confirmed ticket are being distributed as part of a campaign against the “chief minister’s humiliation in the air”.

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