KATHMANDU, Sept 16: Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai has said sorry to Budhha Air passengers after he found himself at the receiving end of widespread public anger for causing a flight delay on Saturday.
As he was returning to Kathmandu from Nepalgunj on Saturday evening, Bhattarai, by his own account, had boarded the aircraft fifteen minutes behind the schedule. Once aboard, Bhattarai was greeted by an angry group of passengers who grilled the minister for making them wait for 'nearly an hour'.
A video footage of the incident that has gone viral on social media shows a group of enraged passengers confronting the minister and demanding justification for the delay. One passenger can even be heard telling Bhattarai, a culture minister, to learn some manner.
“You made the constitution. What section of the constitution gives a minister the power to put a plane on hold?” a passenger can be heard shouting at a grinning minister. Some passenger can be seen pointing finger at the minister as the group continue their slurs.
The video taken by Gyan Bahadur Shahi also known as Gyanendra Shahi and shared by few other passengers has since taken the social media by storm.
In a Facebook message, Bhattarai said that he regretted inconvenience caused by the delay to passengers. He said he requested to keep the flight on hold because he was to attend an urgent meeting in Kathmandu on Sunday. Bhattarai, albeit indirectly, dismissed the public frustration as a sham protest staged by a pro-monarchy group to defame him.
“In Nepalgunj, three/five persons came down aggressively against me. One of them said that we have not forgotten how 'you troubled us by submitting 7 lakh signatures against Paras at the palace. Shortly after hearing that, I realized their intent,” Bhattarai said.
Bhattarai's forceful attempt to link public frustration only infuriated the social media already mad at the behavior of one of the 'most promising' youth leaders of the ruling Nepal Communist Party. Bhattarai had raised huge public expectations as he assumed the office a month ago, filling the vacuum created by the death of late tourism minister Rabindra Adhikari who had died in a chopper crash in February.
The incident took yet another turn on Sunday afternoon after Lalitpur police arrested Shahi, a journalist, after he allegedly came under minor attack from students affiliated to the ruling party during a press briefing of Saturday's incident.
“I don't feel like I have committed any crime. Don't I have the right to ask question when the minister caused delay of the flight by one hour. Every citizen has been asking the same question,” Shahi said during a Facebook livestream ahead of the arrest.
Police officials said that Shahi was taken into custody out of safety concerns.
Saturday's incident and the public uproar that followed come as a warning for VIPs and airline operators from continuing such practices in future.