The Pioneer December 7, 2008 Coffee Break
Must we pay for ‘VIP’ security?
The diatribe against politicians following the fidayeen attacks is extremely disconcerting, but not entirely unjustified. Till now, we did not get to hear of or read about what people in this country think of their politicians, although we had a fairly good idea about it, because the views of the unwashed masses rarely find mention on prime time television or the front pages of our so-called national newspapers. Now that we have the bold and the beautiful who can be spotted at the ‘happening places’ in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and wherever else it’s ‘happening’ denouncing politicians and blaming them for holding India up to ridicule, 24x7 news channels and newspapers competing with instant television to grab eyeballs are tripping over each other to publicise the views of the la-di-da crowd as profound observations on the pitiable state of our country, a nuclear weapon state which aspires to emerge as a great power. Ask Binapani Adok of Baltitola Lane in Howrah, and she will tell you what she has always thought of politicians every time she has had to stand in a mile-long queue at the local ration shop. There’s nothing profound about her profanity, but at least it’s far more honest than the balderdash dished out by television channels and newspapers this past week.It would, however, be wrong to brush aside the angry voices we have been hearing on the streets ever since the hideous bloodletting in Mumbai as inconsequential. Indeed, it could prove to be disastrous for the political class to pretend that the popular mood will calm down before long and life in this wondrous land of ours will be back to ‘normal’. For, there are some genuine concerns that are being voiced and the solutions that are being proposed should cause alarm among politicians and set alarm bells ringing. After suffering the callous indifference of those in power, whether at the Centre or in the States, and fed up with the cynicism of politicians who are solely obsessed with themselves and feathering their nests, people have begun asking why they should pay taxes to keep their rulers in comfort while they are left to fend for themselves. There’s a groundswell of anger over the elaborate security arrangements that politicians ensure for themselves and their families while leaving the citizens at the mercy of jihadis and assorted criminals, to be killed, maimed, raped and denied the security of life and property which is their inalienable right and the Government’s primary responsibility. If politicians believe that it is the state’s job to protect them, here’s what the people believe: We would like to see them suffer for a change. The ‘VIP’ sees himself as a ‘Very Important Person’; the people now pity him as a ‘Very Impotent Person’. Politicians have only themselves to blame for being seen as objects of ridicule, scorned and loathed by the masses. They claim to be servants of the people, but actually believe that they are more privileged than the rest, that their lives are more precious than those that are lost in terrorist attacks. They see themselves as indispensable to India; the nation has begun to see them as eminently dispensable. It is this inflated sense of importance, of being able to manipulate the system, that has resulted in the creation of the ‘VIP’ who must be provided with round-the-clock security in the form of bullet-proof vehicles and gun-toting commandos. It is immaterial whether the ‘VIP’ actually faces a threat to his or her life, what is important is that their security cover should shock and awe the masses. This is not about protecting their ‘precious’ lives, but projecting their ‘status’ and ‘prestige’. So we have the likes of Mr Ram Vilas Paswan and Mr Amar Singh (just two of the many such politicians) who coerce the Government to deploy commandos to guard them and their families — to be upgraded from ‘X’ to ‘Y’, from ‘Y’ to ‘Z’, and from ‘Z’ to ‘Z+’ security cover is a measure of the political clout, social status and prestige of the self-annointed ‘VIP’. After becoming Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Ms Mayawati demanded that she be provided with SPG cover, meant for ‘Very Very Important Persons’ like the Prime Minister, former Prime Ministers and, of course, the presiding dynasty of the Congress. Upset over being denied similar privilege, she has commandeered 350 policemen to provide her with security cover night and day, and travels in a 25-vehicle cavalcade. Each time she decides to take a ride in her bullet-proof SUV, traffic is stopped, shopkeepers are asked to down their shutters, pedestrians are made to stand facing away from the street. The Prime Minister and his leader make do with only traffic being stopped and the roads being cleared of potential assassins among exasperated commuters.The cost to the tax-payer? According to one estimate, Rs 250 crore is spent every year on providing security cover to our ‘Very Important Persons’. An additional Rs 184 crore is spent on securing the lives of the ‘Very Very Important Persons’. In Lutyens’ Delhi, 10,000 policemen of various ranks are deployed every day to protect 391 people. Had there been 1,000 policemen on duty at Gateway of India on November 26, the massacre at Mumbai may have been averted. But if you were to point out to a ‘VIP’ that the discrimination is obnoxious, that his fixation with security cover has resulted in the people being rendered vulnerable, he would take great offence and insist that it is important to protect the ‘leader’ so that the ‘led’ can be governed. What good is a democracy unless its politicians are safe and sound? Who’s to tell them that along with democracy the political class is threatened when citizens start looking up to the Army for deliverance? So, like our national assets, for example oil installations and airports, the politicians must also be protected at the tax-payers’ expense.The most frustrating part of it all is that there’s nothing we can do about it. The Delhi High Court, which has been hearing a PIL on ‘VIP’ security, had acidly commented last year that “politicians are not national assets that need to be protected” and that the “security cover given to political leaders is often a nuisance for the common man”. The court had also observed, “If there is a threat to the lives of the politicians, they should remain in the confines of their homes and offices… You should not let these men (politicians) come out.”The courts may not be able to force the VIPs and VVIPs to stay at home, but the people can. All we need to do is honk every time we see a ‘VIP’ on the road, honk louder when traffic is stopped, and raise such a din that the ‘VIP’ is left fuming at his impotence. And if we have the guts, we could, collectively, refuse to pay taxes to a Government of the few, by the few and for the few. Any takers?