New Delhi, Dec. 24: The Empire Strikes Back. The Star Wars movie title could well encapsulate India’s move today when it cancelled an earlier permission given to Emirates’ Air to fly an extra 16 special flights to clear the holiday season rush.
The reason, though not stated, is that India is peeved by the UAE’s refusal to hand over Anees Ibrahim, brother of fugitive ganglord Dawood.
No one in the government would admit it was a tit-for-tat action, but sources said the truth was that India was taking a punitive measure to send a signal to Dubai.
Anees was arrested in Dubai early this month and India tried to have him deported with a senior CBI official flying to the emirate with papers to support New Delhi’s case against the Bombay blast accused. But Anees was allowed to fly off to Pakistan after pressure from Islamabad.
Since last year, the Indian government has gone overboard giving the Emirates many additional flights and extra ports of call, “far beyond what it had sought”.
Emirates now flies to Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad and Cochin. India has also encouraged its own state-run Indian Airlines to undertake more direct flights to Dubai and to promote it as a shopping destination, besides encouraging Indian businesses to set up shop in the Emirates.
Indians have for long been the principal customers at neighbouring Sharjah’s duty-free airport, accounting for as much as 60 per cent of the sales there. The Emir of Sharjah’s family, which has a stake in the airport, has always been pleased with the extra money Indians brought to fill their coffers.
Dubai, which now earns the majority of its revenues from non-oil businesses and wants to strengthen this trend, had long been seeking this custom. Indian authorities had believed that by giving Dubai a direct economic incentive to cooperate, it would shed its earlier pro-Pakistan stance and be in a better mood to do business of a “different kind”.
An agency story put out here quoted the Emirates as saying that “due to unforeseen circumstances, the additional flights for the Christmas/New Year season have been cancelled to Mumbai and Chennai”.
India has been giving additional flights to airlines that had sought them for the winter season in a bid to help bring down the rush in certain key sectors.
The agency report also said the director-general of civil aviation had refused to clear Emirates’ extra flights into the country.