VIP Culture—Divisive And Deplorable
The red flashing beacon light denotes that the ‘bull’ is on the run away from ‘red’ light and you had better take care of your life and limb. The supposed law-makers break all traffic laws and their cavalcade moves unabashedly on the roads. Such blatant display of power and scant respect for law of the land must stop by all means
At a little past noon, a SX4 cream-coloured car with the lal batti on top of it and a PSO armed with a 9mm revolver turned from Lodi Road into Khan Market (New Delhi), the favourite haunt of diplomats, socialites, the rich and the famous. The scion of a VIP had a coffee appointment.
At about the same time a cream-coloured Ambassador also with lal batti and a PSO came from the rear of the market and came in front of the SX4. It also had a scion of another VIP who was leaving the Market and going home. The two cars were in eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation. The scions, with their inflated senses of importance did not allow their drivers to back and give space for one car to pass. The PSOs came out and looked helpless. A small crowd collected. For it, there was much fun seeing clash of “VIPs”.
Suddenly, one of the scions shouted to his PSO, “Shoot karo. samnewali car ka tyre puncture kardo. Maro goli.” The PSO had a better sense, he just strolled over to talk with the other PSO. Meanwhile, a few shop-owners came and stitched a compromise. Both cars were to back out at the same time and give way to each other. Thus ended the clash of titans.
The threat perception beco-mes a symbol of power—Supreme Court
How right the Hon’ble judges were. It’s the fear of assassinations after the late Indira Gandhi, that restrictions were placed. Rajiv Gandhi’s advisers became obsessive about suicide-killers and terrorists. Since then agencies and VIPs have gone overboard. Now possibility of threat has been converted to justify the use of symbols of power.
One is the closure of the road VVIP is to travel. A car or a jeep full of armed security men is always in the convoy providing security to VIP sahib while he travels on roads. A chota VIP has an escort of frightening-looking security men waving sten-guns in a jeep or a car, following the sahib’s car. A bada VIP also has a pilot car in front of sahib’s car.
The escort cars keep swerving as they zig-zag in the traffic to be bumper-to-bumper with the car carrying the VIP.
“The red flashing beacon light denotes that the ‘bull’ is on the run away from ‘red’ light and you had better take care of your life and limb. The supposed law-makers break all traffic laws and their cavalcade moves unabashedly on the roads. Such blatant display of power and scant respect for law of the land must stop by all means.”
But how? Supreme Court did whatever it could, but the moment one whiffs the political air, one wants to display he is someone special, much above all those who are outside the political arena. Courts can do nothing against such psyche.
The drivers of these escort cars for the ‘bulls’ on the run, must be as bullish too. One nearly hit me near India Gate. The lesser mortals like you and me, suffer daily—particularly those who live in Delhi. Every day, one suffers disruptions. In an extreme case the security restrictions for the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh allegedly delayed an ambulance reaching a patient to a hospital that he died. Since then provision has been made for such cases.
These Very Important Persons (VIP) do not know or feign ignorance about the ridicule people have for them. I recall an incident during Rajiv Gandhi era. I was going to South Avenue for a breakfast meeting with Sunil Dutt, who had come back after padyatra for peace from Mumbai to the Golden Temple in Amritsar. I stopped my car behind three DTC buses standing at the end of Maulana Azad Road. The stoppage must have been quite long, many passengers were standing on the road—it was an extremely hot and sweaty morning, about 9.45.
VIPS Throwing Their Weight
Many instances are available of how VIPs flout rules unabashedly (and making themselves vulnerable) to pamper their relatives and most these cases were exposed through RTI applications.
PADMA AWARDS (2013)
Several VIPs nominated their family members and friends for the prestigious awards. In total 25 nominees were recommended by the VIPs.
- Lata Mangeshkar had nominated her sister Usha.
- Ustad Amjad Ali Khan recommended both his sons, Amaan and Ayaan
- Amar Singh nominated Jaya Prada
- Congress MPs Motilal Vora and T Subbarami recommended over 10 names.
- These VIPs believe in all in the family principle. Unfortunately, this is in gross violation of the rules for application for Padma awards.
FORMER AVIATION MINISTER, PRAFUL PATEL
He is fighting hard to defend himself regarding the purchase of the aircraft fleet. He would have no voice to fight to defend his daughters’ deeds during his tenure as minister.
In April 2010, Patel’s daughter Avni Deshpande decided to have a bigger Air India aircraft from Bangalore to Male in Maldives, as seven of her family members from her in-laws side, could not be accommodated in the business class, as it was full.
The RTI documents show that directions were given by email from Mumbai office of Air India to change the ‘equipment’ of Bangalore-Male flight on April 25 and Male-Bangalore on April 28, 2010 from a smaller Airbus A319 to the larger A320.
Accordingly, Air India provided a bigger plane so that the following members could travel in business class: R V Deshpande, Radha Deshpande, Prasad Deshpande, Meghna Deshpande and Master Dhruv, in addition to Avni and her husband Prashant Deshpande.
What is worse is that the reply states that the return flight went half-empty, thus frittering away public money.
Patel’s other daughter, Poorna Patel: a Delhi-Coimbatore Air India flight was cancelled 12 hours before departure as she turned it into a chartered flight so that she could fly from Chandigarh to Chennai with some cricket players for an Indian Premier League (IPL) match!
SECURITY FOR VIPS IN MAHARASHTRA
Around 812 policemen are around 64 VIPs. Out of these, Sushilkumar Shinde, his wife and daughter were surrounded by 66security personnel. His wife alone had 14 policemen to guard her. Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan enjoys the cover of 46 security guards while 31 securitypersonnel protect Ajit Pawar, the deputy CM.
The RTI reply shockingly revealed that out of 48,969 policemen on duty in Mumbai, more than 5 per cent or 27,740 are deployed for security of VIPs, while the remaining over 21,000 cops attend to around two crore odd population of the metro city.
FORMER PRESIDENT OF INDIA PRATIBHA PATIL
She spent Rs225 crore on foreign tours wherein she visited 45 countries during her tenure as President. On most tours she took along with her, a large contingent of her family members and friends.
RTI applications also revealed how she tried to usurp a 2.60 lakh sq ft of Prime Defence land in Pune to build her home but a tenacious campaign through a series of articles in Moneylife thwarted her dreams. She had to surrender the land and is now residing in a smaller residence.
Veeresh Malik, Delhi-based RTI activist and Moneylife’s Consulting Editor, has filed a series of applications with the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), the MHA, Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Civil Aviation, Ministry of Surface Transport and Ministry
of Railways, and a few other government bodies, which use or used the term ‘VIPs’.
The Railways, he says, has been more than helpful with the information provided. Picking up from the reply, Malik summarised that, “There is no definition for the term VIP, and apart from the usual lot, pretty much anybody who holds a requisition from a ‘high official’ (yet another undefined term) qualifies to be one as far as out-of-turn allotment of reservations is concerned. That letterheads of these VIPs are regularly misused for reservations under emergency quota is a known practice, and is also reported on in the media from time to time.”
Recently around 27 hangers—one of Ram Vilas Paswan—decided to travel with him to Patna. Since Netaji had proper tickets, his boys assumed that they would have the benefit of being under Netaji’s protective umbrella. Alas there is no romanticism is left and the poor Paswan boys were off-loaded.
THE BALAJI TEMPLE IN TIRUPATI
With hordes of VIPS going there for seeking Balaji’s aashirwad, the VIP culture had reached insufferable proportions. It has now been clamped down on VIP privileges.
Earlier, with 5,000 VIPs visiting the temple every day, thousands of common people had to wait for long hours. Now, only 800-1000 VIPs are permitted per day, resulting in 10,000 more common people being able to take the darshan.
The scion, Rahul Gandhi, enjoys privileges that no one does. He does not enter through main entrances nor exists. Whoever handles his immigration must be a very discreet person.
Another VIP R.K. Dhawan was astonished to find that the son-in-law too has the privileges. Innuendoes hint that no one can ever know where he goes, what he carries.
Soon after the PM convoy passed at a very high speed. It just flashed past. I overheard one passenger remark, “Aaj bahut jaldi mein ja rahe the.” Another passenger, possibly a friend of the first was apparently witty. He said, “Lagta hai bahut rupaya le ja rahe the.”
Such comments reflect the anger of the people against the epidemic proportions with which lal batti syndrome has spread and the often comical efforts of politicians and film people and the rich—even media persons—to get the security of high grade and a posse of armed security guards.
Such pooh-pah, as the red light and security guards, are referred to generally, is at best in display at any function by some other pooh-pah wale. Security guards and a posse of policemen flail their arms about like manic windmills signalling the VVIP-bearing pooh-pah cars into the venue and stopping all other traffic.
The non-pooh-pah wale, women wearing heavy sarees and jewellery and men in suits have to wait, until the VIP traffic is over. Imagine the sweaty condition of the non-VIP guests before all cars here got air-conditioning. Irony is that the threat perception here is not as bad as it was in England during the terrorism by the IRA (Irish Republican Army). India is a big country, whereas, Britain compared to it is a tiny dot on the map. For IRA bombers to reach London was like a terrorist commuting from Jaipur to Delhi. They bombarded at will. The Grand Hotel at sea resort Brighton was bombed while the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was putting up with her entire cabinet.
I have seen in the summer of 1984, when the IRA was still most active, the then Prime Minister John Major drive in at about noon in a green Jaguar and an escort car, another Jaguar, at Europa Hotel in Belfast, capital of Northern Ireland and in a way the centre of IRA’s operational plans.
I could see no gun-toting posse of security men, nor five or six sharp-shooters, personal bodyguards in civvies jumping out and encircling Major. This despite the fact that Europa is the most bombed—28times—hotel in the world. The place must have been sanitised but in a discreet way. No public display of a VVIP’s privileges nor an assertion that he was a class above the common man.
This is why Lord Swraj Paul once asked me on returning from Delhi after attending the first NRIs conference, “Why were re-frisked inside the hall after we had to go through a similar drill outside. Lives of VVIPs seem to be very dear.” Can you imagine Gursharan Kaur buying groceries in a retail outlet even now when her husband Dr Manmohan Singh is no longer Prime Minister. I spotted Norma Major when her husband was Prime Minister, shopping at a Sainsbury’s retail on Victoria Street. She was alone and I could see no security man standing discreetly anywhere. Nor any customer or the cash till girl or the floor supervisor bothered to talk with her. She just bought whatever she came for, paid, and left.
Time To Tame The VIP Syndrome
“Don’t you know who I am”, seems to capture the spirit of India’s VVIP and VIP syndrome that politicians and officials in power exhibit often. In a country hopelessly short of policemen on the ground, more than 47,000 cops protect around 14,800 VIPs. While there are roughly three policemen protecting one VIP, more than 700 of ordinary citizens have to do with just one. Those not protecting the big wigs have to take care of political rallies, security at public events and public places. No wonder, the crime graph is shooting up across the country.
It is the common man who pays the bill for the security of these VIPs while he himself remains exposed to crimes. He remains unsafe on the streets, at public places and even at his own home. Also, these VVIPs get preferential treatment from the police at every stage. The practice is patently unfair. Why should the citizen pay for it? In most developed countries, the state protects only a few at the very top—the constitutional heads—the rest has to manage their own security.
In India, just about everybody, who’s anybody is protected. The list is impressive indeed: politicians, ministers, bureaucrats, judges, spiritual leaders, criminals and even the kin of the leaders.
The VIP culture in India is omnipresent. Over the years, the numbers of VIPs have grown so large that new categories of VVIPs have been instituted to differentiate amongst them.
Elected representatives, senior bureaucrats, high ranking police and military officers all wave flags and flash red lights in a race for privilege.
Getting roads blocked to get priority passage, flashing red lights, having armed guards wave guns and blow loud sirens have become everyday status symbols of VVIP power.
The worst examples of these excesses are seen with the kind of privileges seized by the political class. The tendency of the political class to attempt to grab every ounce of the public resources for themselves is often displayed. It is ironic that those elected to serve the people deny the very people they serve access to themselves.
Contrast this with developed democracies where equality before the law governs the behaviour of public servants.
The former Governor of Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis, was famous for regularly taking public transportation even while he was a Governor.
Imagine a chief minister in India taking public transportation. A fundamental principle of democracy is equality of all citizens before the law regardless of gender, age, race, ethnicity, religious or political beliefs and affiliations, caste, class or economic status.
Unlike a colonial, feudal or totalitarian regime, in a democracy the rule of law applies equally to all citizens. No public servant, not even the President or Prime Minister, is above the law.
More than six decades after Independence, from courts where judges are preceded by an orderly who runs in front of the judge through the corridor to warn people of “your Lord’s arrival” to the VIP entrances at major temples and shrines—where it is unclear which lord is paying obeisance to which god—the colonial ideal of separating rulers from the ruled is deeply resonant among India’s ruling elite.
Harish Salve’s petition to the Supreme Court last year complaining about the abuse of power and public resources by the VVIPs is a great example of people’s frustration. The Supreme Court took the opportunity to ask the Centre, States and Union Territories to define VIPs and VVIPs and furnish details of the expenses incurred in providing security to family members of the VVIPs, including those with a criminal background. When Salve noted the nuisance caused by loud sirens during VVIP traffic movements, the Supreme Court sought replies from the Centre and the Delhi government, but noted that ambulances and vehicles of security forces would be exempt from any regulatory measures. All over the world coloured beacons are allowed only on emergency vehicles travelling on emergency duties. Blowing sirens is strictly forbidden, unless in cases of emergency. It is quite possible that the central and state governments would be furnishing their rules under Motor Vehicle Acts, indicating “who are entitled” to have red beacons, to justify the existing situation. According to the 2002 Central rules, 19 categories of high dignitaries are permitted red beacons with flasher, 21 with red lights without flasher, 4 local official categories with amber beacon and emergency vehicles with blue beacons. No bureaucrat except the Cabinet Secretary or state Chief Secretary and no defence officer except the chiefs or acting chiefs can display red lights.
For most of us in India, VIP exclusionism is so common that it barely evokes comment. From toll plazas to airports, to public monuments, temples, and stadiums, if you can get yourself a piece of paper that certifies you as a VIP, life becomes much easier. Our VIP culture can be traced back to the British Raj, where the colonial rulers wanted to barricade themselves from the natives and therefore set up regimes of exclusivity. After independence, and with the advent of political modernity through embracing democracy, one would have expected the allied values of democracy, such as equality, to take root in public life. But they did not. Instead, the native bourgeoisie stepped into the shoes of the colonial bourgeoisie. It not only strengthened but also expanded the system of VIP entitlements, which became part of the broader system of patron-client networks. Very soon, the VIP malaise became so widespread that it became self-defeating. These elites started wondering, how can they be a VIP when almost everyone else around them is also a VIP? But rather than find a cure for the VIP epidemic, we solved the problem by inventing a whole new category of the super-entitled: the VVIPs. The VIP wasn’t so VIP anymore.
Speaking of which, it sure sounds a scandal that Robert Vadra (son-in-law of Congress President Sonia Gandhi) is exempt from frisking while the three service chiefs aren’t? A Delhi High Court judgement of 2008 echoed what many feel. It read, “VIP security is obnoxious. It’s nothing but a status symbol, it’s a scandal that the common man is killed on the street and old people are strangled and these politicians get so much security at taxpayers’ money.” There is a need to arrest this VVIP culture in public governance. The Supreme Court of India has been delivering a variety of judgments on matters of public governance, and these have been the subject of debate and discussion. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, India’s first Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, said in 1950: “Certain tendencies and developments in our administration and public affairs fill me with some disquiet and sadness of heart. Our public life seems to be degenerating. We talk when the paramount need is that of action. With all the sincerity and earnestness at my command I appeal to all my countrymen to reflect on what they see in and around themselves.” The feudalistic mentality of public servants including elected representatives seems to be the bane of our public administration. And it is spreading, resulting in lack of sensitivity, efficiency and accountability in public service.
It is, therefore, imperative that these bureaucrats and politicians should realise that they are public servants first, and that it is their duty to work for the betterment of the people and not create an especial status for themselves. Today, the conditions and circumstances of public administration are different from what they were some time ago. A vigilant civil society, ever-watchful media and the Right to Information Act require that politicians and the bureaucracy are held accountable and their actions remain transparent. We need to do away with the feudal culture of politicians and civil servants, who adopt a dictatorial attitude while dealing with the common man.
Here neither a former VVIP or their family members ever move without security nor others at any store leave the members alone. Some even get a selfie. The fact is that the VIP culture infects! It affects people differently like bhang. But generally
it makes quite a few unabashed show-offs and provokes them to do most embarrassing things, and then entices hundreds to make a fool of themselves.
I have seen an Ambassador car fitted with the red beacon and written on the top of number plates in the front and the rear “Zila Dhees, District Congress’ and another had “Chairman, District Board”. In Delhi I saw a Maruti 800, on the number plates of which was emblazoned, “Jt Secy, Youth Congress”. One wonders if he has erased it after the party’s electoral disaster.
The excesses by the VIPs have been exposed in recent times through RTIs and through court directives. The red light craze has ebbed after the police was directed to stop and check if the occupant of a car with lal batti was entitled to it. Hundreds of fake VIPs were denuded and forced to ne non-pooh-pah wallahs.
Most cases of traffic being stopped or diverted for VIPs to pass, making our life difficult, are illegal. Jammu-based RTI activist, Deepak Sharma was surprised to find out that the police have no right to stop traffic for most VIPs that pass by. Fed up of being inconvenienced due to all grades of ministers enjoying VIP treatment on roads, he filed an RTI application, seeking information on who is eligible for special privileges on roads.
The MHA stated, “…it may be stated that as per guidelines issued by MHA in consultation with Central Security Agencies, traffic is to be stopped only in the case of President of India, the Vice President of India, the Prime Minister of India and visiting foreign dignitaries who are given President and PM level security cover so as to give them safe passage during movement by road.”
Stopping the normal flow of traffic is just one way VIPs misuse their illegal privileges. In the UK, traffic is never stopped. In the case of Prime Minister only, in case he is going or coming back from an official engagement, a police officer stands at crossings and he stops the traffic hardly a minute before Prime Minister’s car passes by. No sirens and no lal batti.
Only the Queen’s car has a replica of the crown welded on the top of the car roof. There is no siren for her as well. The concept of SPG and NSG is unknown.
In fact, Sir Paul Stevenson on a visit to India when he was a Police Commissioner told me that the idea of closing traffic for the Prime Minister baffled him. The would-be terrorist or suicide bomber would have advance information about the route the VVIP would take. But the VIP culture has come to stay in India. Although one RTI applicant said he had “never got anything close to a cogent definition of the term (VIP).”
The reality is that VIP culture is divisive, which divides the society into the privileged class and the common people. There is the ruling class and the ones who are ruled. This mocks at democracy. It is for the people to become assertive and refuse to let the VIP get his way everywhere.
Like the one at Maurya Sheraton, the tall person who opened my car rushed away to welcome the occupant of a car with lal batti. On being asked, he glibly said, “Sir I always give priority to one who comes in the car having a red light.” There you are. We have the feudal democracy at it best, and we may accept it. Unless like Pak passengers who prevented a former minister from boarding the flight because he was two hours late. The only slightly possible way is to shame them. If you can click photographs with your mobiles and post them on YouTube! Hopefully it would work.
Otherwise live with the hordes of Very Important Persons…but ignore them.
By Vijay Dutt