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Do our politicians really need the security they get?

If one is in power, the security risks are high. Very soon after losing it, the risks are reduced. This absurd logic has been on display in Uttar Pradesh where the only days-old Akhilesh Yadav government trimmed former chief minister Mayawati’s security detail and how!

Her entourage was trimmed by three hundred personnel, the fleet of 40 cars including four bullet-proof vehicles reduced to ten; she only has one which can resist a bullet. The security was provided by a combination of state police and the National Security Guards (NSG). (DOESN’T THIS ALSO PROVE THAT HER SECURITY WAS PROBABLY EXCESSIVE?)

Was Mayawati's security, which was recently drastically reduced, around her more to establish her importance? AFP

No doubt, the policemen taken off from the duties of protecting her can now staff several police stations in a state which is known to be lawless. That should make the citizen smile. Is it, however, that simple?

Who did Mayawati need protection from to have gun-toting men encircle her even as she walked, coiffured and in her usually cream ensemble? We don’t know because these are not shared in the public domain. And therein could be the tale.

For, the very same officialdom which saw a high threat perception and shielded her the way she was, now suddenly think the protection can be scaled down. The Times of India’s Sunday edition had an explanation:

While her political rivals claim that her fetish for security was more to flaunt her status symbol, sources in the security wing of the state police say that more than Mayawati, it was her blue-eyed bureaucrats who always wanted to enhance her security cover.

So was security all about pandering to her ego? Or did she, despite her swagger and bluster – she would rarely answer a question at a press conference, read a statement and walkout regally, for instance – psychologically need the gun-carrying men, like the blanket Charlie Brown needed as a comforter?

If it was either – a fetish or bureaucrats sucking up to her to give her a majestic demeanour at state expense, which can easily be called ‘pandering to’ – then it was wrong because it makes nonsense of the concept called proactive protection which is the norm if one is really at risk. By merely deploying men around her, the edge the trained men have can be dulled.

The question is, did she need such a cover at all or does she need more of it now because her bitter political rivals, who too have used muscle in the past, have people with criminal records on board the government? This question will never be answered though there are voices from within the Bahujan Samaj Party that the reduction in protection was a political plot to expose her to severe risks.

However, in most cases, a security detail is supposed to convey something else.

It is to mark the rung at which the protected is placed. More cops around implies the importance of the person, enhancing his or her esteem, as if the position held is of no account. Since many of these deployments across India have never been tested, we do not even know how effective they are despite the tax-payer coughing up the funds to pay the huge bills. Its full magnitude is unbeknown except that it costs the exchequer quite a bit.

If Mayawati was really as vulnerable as made out by the 400-plus security men and forty vehicles when she was a chief minister, then why were no bullet proof shields used on the rostrum in the election rallies she addressed? How come with the gunmen around them, these politicians walk around in crowds as if each and every one in them has been screened to reduce any risk to them?

Ostentation is the purpose, plain and simple.

For security to be effective, it does not have to be show-offy but well planned and its elaborate nature – manpower and equipment – left to be guessed at by the perpetrator of a potential attack. This is a tenet of security management.

When visiting 10 Downing Street to interview Prime Minister David Cameroon, Karan Thapar thought that the security was almost invisible except for the constable at the end of the barricaded street who knew Thapar was visiting, as he wrote in the Hindustan Times on Sunday. The absurdity struck him amidships but he did not compare it to India.

Can it be that just a single flatfoot was enough for a British prime minister? Is it possible that the head of a government was left to be a sitting duck in this era of international terrorism? Quite unlikely.

The security was no doubt strong: the very fact that we don’t know how he is protected is its strength. How far the security ring extended is another plus of the arrangement. These countries and their security apparatus are maniacally paranoid about security they provide but keep the fuss out of sight.

Now compare Mayawati with Mamata Bannerjee. She walks about in her rumpled sari and the hawaii chappals as if she is a non-entity in a wedding crowd and feels secure in a state where the political bitterness between her party, Trinamool Congress and CPM, is known to have led to physical violence against each other. After the 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai, Sharad Pawar asked that the newly proposed security for him be withdrawn because it intimidated the people who came to see him.

Does Mamata feel that security is an inconvenience to be avoided? That it creates a barrier between her and the people she serves? If the number of people on a security detail is an index of how well you are serving the people, then Mayawati is ahead of Mamata! For, after all, they have security around to serve the people!