Despite green light to turn off red lights, threat to survival of sanity in governance lingers
For a while now, High Visibility with Low Acceptability sums up the incipient image of the Very Important Person (VIP) in India. Till a few decades ago, leaders and personalities with low visibility and high credibility were accepted as VIPs by society. But as the number of beacons (lal battis) on cars and pilot vehicles—signature symbols of today’s VIP—multiplied, the pompous personages invited the wrath and disdain of the common man from whom they demand respect and submission. As ever intuitive to the pulse of the people, Prime Minister Narendra Modi banned beacons from official vehicles of all ministers, civil servants and leaders last week.
In the past, a few leaders, including a couple of chief ministers, had made half-hearted attempts to downgrade VIPs to VOPs (Very Ordinary Persons). However, Hurricane Modi has swept away red light culture from the corridors of power. Within minutes of his diktat, Union ministers were observed rushing home or to work sans the customary red lights flashing on their swanky cars.
The colour red was not the only sign of a VIP. The paraphernalia, part of the retinue of a self-proclaimed sultan on steroids was the old normal—a lethal combination of a beacon-crowned car protected by either gun-toting commandoes or officious cops insulating VIPs from VOPs. He hopes a leaner security detail will be the new normal.
The PM’s resolve to curtail or contain the VIP syndrome stems from an aversion to the rising craze among leaders of all persuasions—political, social, spiritual, Bollywood and business—for government branded security as opposed to the highly discreet private protection services available elsewhere in the world. Black Cat commandos, Greyhounds, security personnel from the CRPF, CISF and other special forces bestow a false sense of power and importance on the sub-ordinary and undeserving barnacles clinging to the keel of power. Normally, a protectee’s level of security is decided on the basis of the threat perception from unlawful elements or terrorists. But there are examples galore of individuals getting high security shield against threats emanating from their own rivals instead of genuine danger. Sometimes an uncivilised culture lies behind the sense of entitlement. Subsequently, VIPs are ridiculed as Very Insecure Persons.
According to unofficial estimates, India has one cop per 325 citizens. But over 20 security personnel guard one VIP. The number of VIPs basking under the high security umbrella has been zooming vertical at subsonic speed. As many as 500 people are listed as VIPs by the Central government and over 5,000 by the state governments. This laborious list includes lawmakers, bureaucrats, judges and important leaders of the civil society and corporate world. Even some media persons sport lal battis as a perk from obliging politicians who expect quid pro quo.
This ostentatious security culture began when some chief ministers, babus and senior police officials raised their own security level claiming “perceived” threat perception. For example, in states in the north and the east, over 1,000 lawmen are deputed to protect a chief minister. But the newly-elected Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s order to curtail the use of beacons and downgrade the security of numerous politicians came to naught. His predecessor Parkash Singh Badal had a security cover of 1,500, including NSG commandos.
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