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End the VIP culture, it is demeaning

There's something demeaning about the idea of VIPs, something inherently undemocratic. It militates against the idea of equality, for the simple reason that it makes some citizens inferior to others. When red beacons and police protection become status differentiators and they come at the cost of the dignity of the ordinary citizen, there’s reason enough to challenge the idea and rip it apart.

There can be no argument that some people deserve special treatment. However, it’s conveniently forgotten that the treatment is reserved only for the special offices they hold, not for the individuals per se. The president or the prime minister of the country, for example, is protected across the world. It’s because the offices they represent and the symbolic importance they carry. In India, we have managed to subvert the logic of the 'office' to create an unhealthy subculture revolving around government-assigned artificial statuses.

Expensive security. PTI

Expensive security. PTI

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 biggies 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.

The situation of scarcity creates its own system of injustice. It is the common man who foots the bill for the security of the VIPs while he himself remains exposed to crimes. He remains unsafe on the streets, at public places and even at his own home. Also, the protectees 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 its 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. "Let me point out that the problem has become an endemic and a part of our political culture," senior advocate Harish Salve told Supreme Court today. Salve argued that provisions such as providing security and use of beacon lights were being misused and coming in way of right to equality of citizens. "If streets are unsafe then it has to be unsafe for the secretary of the state also," he said.

"I just wanted to draw the attention of the court that in my colony, five vehicles of Haryana Police are stationed outside a posh house, and on being enquired, it came to light to they were guarding a relative of the chief minister...How the police of a state can enter into other state's territory with arms... It has become a tradition. Earlier, a businessman was beaten up by Punjab Police in connection with a case... luckily, he had the boarding pass of Indian Airlines flight from Bangalore to Delhi. All are not so lucky," Salve said.

In response to his argument, the Supreme Court has asked the Centre, all states and Union territories to furnish details of expenses incurred on providing security to various categories of persons, including people with criminal background and kith and kin of VVIPs. The court’s intervention was long overdue. Several governments have been worried about the burden, financial and otherwise, created by the VIP culture. However, since any action in this regard involves politicians and other influential people, they find it difficult to make a move. They will be encouraged by the court’s action.

The citizens have a right know the logic behind red beacons atop vehicles and criminals being protected by policemen. He needs to know why traffic has to be stopped for the VIP convoy and why life has to come to standstill to make life for the big ones comfortable. He also needs to know why the governments make some people superior to themselves by offering them official status differentiators.

With PTI input