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If politicians want security, it's time they paid for it

One of the big paradoxes of living in a democracy is that our leaders seem to need protection from the very people who elected them to office.

Even as women, the poor and the disadvantaged run from pillar to post for basic things like physical safety – whether it is rape and molestation or violence - our politicians have scores of gun-toting commandoes being wasted on them. Even in the security-conscious West, we do not see so many politicians receiving so much protection.

From X to Y to Z and Z-plus, many of our top-level politicians, both in or out of power, have unnecessary protection being given to them at the cost of the taxpayer. (To get a list of those receiving protection, read here)

For example, people with Z-plus security have as many as 36 police persons assigned to them followed by 22 for those in the Z category, 11 for those in Y and two for those with a mere X to their names.

Should leaders like Mayawati be entitled to such high security? AFP

This is not only an enormous waste of taxpayer resources, but is actually becoming counterproductive with our netas seeing security as some kind of status symbol. The more we give politicians free security, the more they will start believing they are masters and the rest of us their servants.

This is particularly vulgar when the ordinary people get very little protection from crime or criminals.

As citizens, it is now time to demand a curtailment of our netas’ security expenses by making one simple demand: that official protection should be available only to political chief executives at centre or states. This means the Prime Minister and the Chief Ministers of various states. The rest should receive only normal institutional protection – just as any citizen is provided police cover if there is an immediate threat to him.

Applying this principle would mean no state protection for politicians such as Sonia Gandhi and her children, no cover for LK Advani, Mulayam Singh, Mayawati, etc, etc.

Security experts may be aghast that our leaders will become more vulnerable due to this demand, but lack of state spending on their protection does not mean no protection at all. What it means is that the individual will have to pay for it himself. Or herself.

This is how it should work.

Top politicians in the major national and regional parties should create their own security apparatus for their leaders. Donations to political parties are anyway exempt from income-tax, and so paying for private security guards should be well within their means.

Rich politicians should automatically be given no protection at state expense at all. For example, what is the logic in providing Mulayam Singh, or Mayawati, who is a Rajya Sabha MP, or LK Advani or Kalyan Singh or Rajnath Singh security at our expense when they can afford it themselves? Or their party can provide for it?

Mayawati’s last-known net worth was a hefty Rs 112 crore. The BSP leader, who claims most of her wealth came from small contributions, should use these contributions to provide for her own security. Mulayam Singh’s assets also exceed Rs 100 crore. Ditto for Advani, or Kalyan Singh, both of whom are close to retirement.

They should be protected by their parties, which benefited from their activities in the 1990s, and not the exchequer.

There are good reasons why security expenses should be brought down for politicians.

First, it is not morally right for politicians to seek protection at the expense of the people. Especially when they are out of power. They should share the risks their people face.

Second, it's the sheer futility of it. Having a bunch of security guards around you is no security at all when it comes to committed terrorists. Did high security save Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi? Minimal, discreet security is often good enough.

Third, there is no reason why out-of-work politicians should not live like the rest of us and be responsible for their own security. They should take simple precautions, and pay for that little extra that private security can provide with personal or party funds. If the police are freed from the responsibility of guarding netas, they can act more professional and protect the people better. Trying to protect too many netas means denying the same to us.

Fourth, providing too much security is counter-productive in a democracy. Not only does it separate politicians from their people, it also builds in them a vested interest to create no alternative leaders. The real strength of a democracy is in the depth of leadership it can create, so that it is not worthwhile even for terrorists to bump off the odd top politician or two.

It is time we abolished running a taxpayer-funded protection racket for politicians.