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.
Amarinder has reduced his to
just a little over 1,000. Many former CMs such as Mulayam Singh Yadav,
Mayawati and Tarun Gogoi continue to enjoy NSG protection. Even yoga
guru-turned-tycoon Baba Ramdev has been given excessive security by the
central government. Since over 90 per cent of those with government
protection are politicians with dubious reputations or the right
connections, VIPs use their security ring to intimidate government
officials and violate traffic rules. Many states have obliged their MPs
with uniformed security even for travel outside their borders. Government agencies spend the taxpayer’s money on VIP peregrinations and their other expenses. In many states, leaders with criminal records and financial frauds delight in the glory of official security. In this context, our VIPs have acquired alternate definitions. Some of them are given below:
●Very Irritating Person whose presence causes inconvenience to people who voted for him.
●Very Insidious Person scheming against rivals and intimidating officialdom for illegal favours.
●Very Intrusive Person who claims the exclusive right to enter any public or private place of his choosing using his security clout.
●Very Irrelevant Person out to exploit his commandos to grab priority right of way or access to various events, making his presumptuous presence felt.
●Very Irrational Person who invokes fraudulent authority over others with frivolous logic and arguments. They use their political links and gang associations as licence to demolish all niceties of civilised existence.
Over the years, the VIP cabal has emerged as a parallel centre of power. It is a coalition of individuals not forged by communalists or secularists; liberals or conservatives; nationalists or internationalists; reformers or protectionists. The VIP legion is glued together with a sense of individual insecurity and collective identity. Being members of the formal establishment ensures that their luminary status is not compromised. For now, Modi has switched off their red lights, but expect them to devise other ways and means to retain their VIP status soon. Bihar ministers have scoffed at Modi’s idea. Following the example of the Prime Minister and BJP chief ministers may cause a temporary dent in their unwanted and undeserving VIP status, but this cunning cabal is sure to adopt exclusive identities for trouble-free access to the centre of power—the red beacon may be out, the red carpet remains.The genus VIP was created in India during the early ’50s to extend courtesies—official and otherwise—to people holding high constitutional positions known for their work rather than their worth—political or otherwise. They were marked top of the list for priority in seating arrangements at official functions. Few of them dashed around in official cars with red beacons. They were genuine VIPs because they were Very Inspiring Persons and Very Innovative Persons, though deliberately staying as Very Invisible Persons. Even after seven decades of Independence, the vulgar visibility of a VIP poses a threat to the survival of sanity in governance. Mighty Modi will have to do more than just toppling red beacons to minimise VIP might. Next move, ban sirens too?