Perverse VIP Syndrome
Cricketer-turned politician Navjot Singh Sidhu was in news recently. The Punjab government had withdrawn the security cover to him. It was restored after Sidhu and his wife criticised the state government’s decision. What this means in concrete terms is that some Punjab police personnel will always be with Sidhu whether or not he lives in Punjab. Actually, Sidhu spends most of his time in between Mumbai and Delhi. But then Sidhu has not been the lone beneficiary of the Punjab government’s security policy. Some time back, in a fratricidal shoot out in Delhi it was revealed how Ponty Chadha, a businessman with a conspicuous but controversial rise to the list of Indian billionaires, had security provided by the Punjab government. The question raised was why the Punjab Police should provide security to a businessman living in Delhi?
Secondly, why should the rich not pay for their security and that too at a time when there are established private security agencies in the country? This question is pertinent because it is understood that Mukesh Ambani. India’s richest man, is provided the so-called Z-category security by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). When many questioned the central government’s decision, the then Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde announced that Ambani would pay for his own security. If that is the case, then there is a need for a transparent policy that provides for paid-security on the part of the government. This policy should clearly say the basis on which the amount of payment for the security cover by the government to a private individual is determined. But this, in turn, raises two fundamental questions. First, do the governments, both at the Centre and States, have enough Police personnel so that they can spare some for the security of the country’s rich? Secondly, and this is more fundamental, whether a government should charge money at all for providing security? After all, the “social contract” on the basis of which the modern state-system has come into being envisages that people or individuals have surrendered some of their rights to the government on the promise that the government will provide security to the lives and property of the people. This being the case, how can the state charge money for providing security?
If anything, all these questions point to the inescapable conclusion that the issue of so-called VIP security has many grey areas. VIP security has degenerated to be a status symbol. One can cite enough instances of politicians without any semblance of threats to their lives competing with each other to get the security cover of the higher grade—from X to Y to Z. The pliant Police hierarchy has, more often than not, falsified ‘threat perspectives’ of politicians, businessmen and even some select civil servants. The phenomenon has troubled even the judiciary. Take the case of Punjab again. Not long ago, the Punjab and Haryana High Court had directed the state government to remove “the ugly security tents that dot over 60 Ministers & MLAs, 12 officials and 75 judges’ homes across Chandigarh”. The Court said that compared to ordinary people, the persons concerned did not face any security threats and that they kept the security men “more as a status symbol”. But what was worse was that it was discovered that about 2,800 Punjab policemen—the strength of three battalions—were deployed as cooks, drivers, gardeners and even masseurs in VIP households across Punjab!
Even the Supreme Court has expressed its anguish over the perverse VIP security. In February 2013, a Bench headed by Justice G.S. Singhvi had questioned why so many people considered VVIP are given police security. It was a follow up on the petition of a Uttar Pradesh resident on the use of beacon lights on official cars as well as security provided to politicians and public officials. ‘Security can be given to the head of state, the Prime Minister, Vice President, Speaker, Chief Justice of India, the heads of Constitutional authority and similar counterparts in the states. But why all and sundry is given red beacon and security. Even mukhia, sarpanch move with red beacon.’ the Bench had said then. Aware that judges of the apex court and High Courts too constituted the list of VVIPs who have been given security, the Bench added that even judges of various courts would not have a problem if security personnel given to them were withdrawn and deployed on streets.
All told, India is one of the least policed countries in the world. According to the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D), the institution meant to promote research and development in and about the police under the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, to police 1.2 billion Indians spread across 3,166,414 sq kms of the country on January 01, 2012, the sanctioned strength in police organisations was 1,693,541 civil and 431,055 armed personnel, making a total of 2,124,596, which averages at 568 Indians per police person, 176 police persons per 100,000 population and 67 police persons per hundred sq kms. The figure of 176 policemen for every 1000000 (a lakh) persons is in sharp contrast to the corresponding figure of 315 in the United States, 200 in the United Kingdom and 290 in Australia. Against this background, the policing in India is all the more inequitable because of the VIP system; for here lives of some citizens seem to be much more important than others. As a result, the cream of our police personnel is engaged in providing VIP security. But then, there is no transparent method of determining who is a VIP to be provided that security.
Take the case of Delhi Police at the national capital, not to speak of the states like Bihar, Assam and West Bengal where the VIP security is of as scandalous proportion as in Punjab. Delhi Police may be the world’s biggest metropolitan police force with a sanction for 83,762 personnel. But the reality is that only around 30 per cent of the existing strength of 60000 is available for general policing, that is, taking care of nearly 20 million people. Because, more than 14,000 of 60,000 Delhi Police personnel provide security to 8,800 VIPs in the metropolis. But this is not all. Many Delhi VIPs also get additional security cover of National Security Guard (NSG). The Special Protection Group (SPG) protects the families of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, former Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Atal Behari Vajpayee as well as Congress president Sonia Gandhi. In fact, the annual budget of the SPG is now over 279 crore of rupees. And if you add the annual budget of NSG of about 200 crore rupees, not to speak of the expenditure incurred by the Delhi Police and the police in various states, the cost of the VIP security will touch a huge figure. Apparently, this cost is being adjusted out of the overall budgeting of the internal security, thus compromising on the security of the countless ordinary people of the country aam aadmi.
As my friend Prof. Ajay Mehra has argued elsewhere, “the VIP syndrome is a feudalised version of India’s colonial past. Clearly, most people considering themselves as ‘very important’ prefer distancing themselves, in their perception by rising to a non-existent pedestal which the security cover takes them to, from the common people. Where there is an attempt by anyone to come closer, it is brazenly, if not brutally, thwarted with force. Since distancing is the purpose, they enjoy the situation.” Ajay is right that this psychology of ‘importantness’ must end. Common people need and deserve this security more than their representatives and other political parasites. Time has come for a systematic review of the VIP culture and its attendant security dimension by Narendra Modi, the Pradhan Sevak (chief servant) of India and his Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
By Prakash Nanda