VIPs: Why must they be more equal than us?

India has 131 policemen per lakh population, which is bad enough. The sanctioned strength is 173 policemen. The United States has 233 policemen for a population of one lakh, the United Kingdom 333, Germany 301 and France 369. The shortage of personnel in Naxal-hit areas stand at 94,800 and across the country at around five lakh.

Still we manage to indulge our VIPs. According to a report in the Times of India, the country deploys three cops for one such worthy. The rest of the population has to do with one policeman for 761 people. There was always something sick about the VIP culture in the country but it becomes worrisome when it flourishes at the cost of the common man. Interestingly, according to a home ministry report for 2010, 50,059 policemen were deployed to protect 16,800 VIPs across the country while the actual sanctioned manpower for the purpose was 28,298.

If you always wondered where were the policemen when you needed them in your neighbourhood or in the city, you have got the answer. They are busy making the lives safer for the biggies suffering from imagined threats to life. And yes, you paid for that too. Lives of VIPs are far more important in our country than that of the man on the street. The country can surely afford to lose ordinary folks to terrorists and Naxals but not its very important persons.

The red beacon. PTI

A quarter in the protected category hardly need policemen to guard them. Many of them are too unimportant to be of interest to potential killers, many are no more under threat and many are good enough to take care of their own security. Many others can have their security downgraded. The Union home ministry have been pruning the list of VIPs under protection over the last three years but it is hardly impressive. The states and Union Territories, which have their own list of protectees, have been reluctant to follow suit despite facing a staff crunch.

Who suffers? It is us the common man. For all one knows, for many of the protectees the security cover is just a status symbol. Some of them are local strongmen with enough security around them provided by the party’s goons. Why do they need the security cover? The central government has been munificent in granting it depending on the political equation with the person being provided security.

This is not to deny that security is not required for leaders. In India there’s a fear of leaders being killed even without too much provocation. But it could be limited only to a handful such people in constitutionally important positions while others could make their own arrangements for security personnel at least. That would free up a lot many police personnel for normal duty. They would then be useful to the citizenry of the country. The government could make provision for payment to private security persons employed by the leaders from a special fund.

Why not use part of the MPLAD fund for that? The government can work out details of the quantum of payment and rules of eligibility. Admitted, this is not a foolproof idea but the country needs its policemen for the citizens not only for the VIPs.

In a welcome development, Akhilesh Singh, the young chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, has cut down his security apparatus and size of the convoy. Mayawati, his predecessor, used to travel in a convoy of 40 vehicles. Akhilesh has cut it down to eight. Manohar Parrikar, the chief minister of Goa, has refused a Z-plus security cover and scaled down the security cover of all other ministers.

These are welcome developments. But would others follow suit? Not likely. The status part of the deal is too important to give up for many.