VIP culture: Banning red beacon not enough, Narendra Modi must stop the abuse of public office

"Every Indian is special, every Indian is a VIP," Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted on Wednesday. We haven't heard Ravindra Gaikwad reacting to it yet.

For those who have a temporary lapse of memory, he is the famous sandal-maar politician from Maharashtra who hit an elderly Air India employee with his footwear repeatedly for allegedly not being treated as a VIP on a flight a few weeks ago. His conduct — arrogant, offensive and crude — exemplified all that is wrong with the VIP culture in the country. A response from him to the prime minister's words that 'every Indian is special' would be interesting.

Representational Image. Reuters.

Representational Image. Reuters.

Banning red beacons atop vehicles is fine, but that hardly is a big strike on the deep-rooted culture that makes the beacon such an important marker of status, social and otherwise, in the country. In terms of messaging, the decision of the Cabinet on Wednesday, is perfect. That not even the President, the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India would be using the beacon is soothing to the ears. People moving in such decorated vehicles not only stall traffic but also convey that they are superior to other Indians. This is a mockery of the idea of equality that is at the heart of democracy.

Office is the new source of discrimination in a country where social equations have largely been defined by hierarchies, often sanctioned by religion, and resultant inequalities. While universal adult franchise, reservation for the hitherto ignored people and legislations aimed at removing entrenched injustices have been of some help in mitigating inequalities coming as part of collective legacy, offices have become a new menace that need addressing. We appear to have created a new caste system based on the basis of official position.

The mention of Gaikwad is important in the context since his case is one of abuse of office and the arrogance that office breeds in incumbents. Would he have behaved in the same way if he were not a parliamentarian? Would he have been let off the way he was if it were not for his office? Obviously not.

To be fair to him, he is not the only public representative who behaved in this fashion. It's far too commonplace. The arrogance is visible in all our government offices where clerks treat ordinary people with disdain, officers behave as superior human beings and peons demand bribes as they control access to officers. Police officials can be the law unto themselves and even lawyers and doctors can misuse their position.

Offices bring a sense of immunity and by extension, the feeling power. Power is displayed in many ways, one of them being the red beacon. But it's a very small matter in the entire malicious, cynical system. Banning it conveys a good message but the bigger challenge is to demolish the sense of power and privilege offices bring. A good move in the case of Gaikwad would have been to strip him off all immunity and make him face the law.

The law has to be fair, treating no one as superior or inferior. If the government sends this message across clearly it would be a great equaliser. Also, it should stop all exclusive treatment to public representatives, officers and everyone in position of authority. All Indians are special, and equal, so there is no need for some to be super special. Thus no special entry for people in temples, public functions, trains and so on.

Why would a flight be delayed because a minister is late? Why would a so-called important person be allowed to jump the queue everywhere? Why must they have so many people serving them as attendants? This is unfair. So it must stop.

Modi, if he is serious about ending the VIP culture, must come down hard on the covert and overt immunities enjoyed by public functionaries of all hues.


Published Date: Apr 20, 2017 05:08 pm | Updated Date: Apr 20, 2017 05:08 pm


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