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Last Thursday evening there was such an exceptionally grim gridlock at HAL Airport that landing passengers had to cool their heels or wander about between cars and puddles for over half an hour while their pick-up vehicles were stuck within the airport premises, unable to move in any direction. The reason? "VVIP movement." It wasn’t even a visiting head of state: just a regular, home-grown neta (in this case, apparently, Arun Jaitley – but it could have been any number of other politicians whose fawning parties treat them like latter-day royals; I shudder to think of the likely situation during Rahul Gandhi’s visit to the state this week).
Do citizens matter? Obviously not to those who claim to be people’s representatives, nor to the political parties to which they belong. And, unfortunately, we the people have allowed a neo-feudal system to subvert the democracy established at the end of the long, hard struggle for independence from colonial rule.
Why is it that today’s elected representatives cannot come and go like everyone else? What makes them so special that they can get away with regularly disrupting the lives of ordinary citizens for no discernible public purpose? In most "developed" parts of the world citizens are barely aware of the presence of VIPs in their midst – in fact, most wouldn’t even think of their elected representatives as VIPs. If even the most educated and urbane among those who wield political power in this country encourage – or at least condone – such unnecessary, sycophantic tamasha over their arrivals and departures, not to mention the defacing of the city with loud, ugly banners and buntings that are rarely removed by the party workers who put them up, what can one expect from many of their colleagues who seem to genuinely assume that they are the nation’s new maharajas and maharanis?
I remember an occasion several years ago when I happened to be driving in front of a VIP convoy proceeding to the airport. The sidekicks in the escort car just behind me did everything they could to get me to move out of the way of their highness. Frightened by the bullying, my then little daughter suggested that we let them go ahead. But for me it was not just about not wishing to let anyone get away with such gratuitous high-handedness but also about helping my daughter to understand and internalise ideas about citizens’ rights and entitlements in a democracy. I explained to her that I was driving at the legally permissible speed limit, that they had no right to go any faster, that the road belonged to us as much as to them, and that I didn’t think they should be rewarded for such boorish behaviour even though I had no interest in competing with them in a race to the airport.
There was another occasion when I was parked on a road with several fellow parents, waiting for our children’s school bus. Even though we were not in a no-parking zone, a policeman came up and rudely asked us to move our cars. The reason? A visiting VIP was expected to pass that way. I told him that for us nobody was more of a VIP than our children and that we were not going anywhere until we had picked them up as we did every day. His boss was summoned to deal with this unexpected insubordination and more or less threatened us with dire consequences if we did not do as we were told. In the process it was revealed that the VIP was not even on official business; he was just going on a personal pilgrimage to a religious institution in the neighbourhood. Only when he was asked to put his threats down in writing did the police officer finally give up his attempt to harass law-abiding citizens in the name of VIP security.
In recent years VIPs and VVIPs have turned into a veritable public nuisance. If it is too late to persuade them that winning an election or even being sworn in as a minister is not the modern equivalent of coronation, something has to be done to minimise their ill-effects on public life.
I genuinely believe that any individual or organisation keen to have one of them inaugurate/grace/preside over an event (for reasons that are not too difficult to imagine) must arrange the function at the V/VVIP’s official office or residence or even plan for a cyber-event: in these days of virtual reality it should be entirely possible to simulate the real thing and thereby avoid inconveniencing the public. This alternative would not only save time, money and energy all around but it might actually leave the worthies with no excuse not to attend to their actual duties as elected representatives.
But I guess they will still cross our paths at various points, including at airports. So I think it is imperative to ensure that airport design in India incorporates separate facilities for greeting, garlanding, genuflecting before and otherwise gratifying political "leaders" so that the general traveling public is not unduly disturbed by V/VVIP movement. ⊕