Nothing reveals our desperation to be a VIP better than the name of an underwear brand. This was one of the gems that came up at a discussion about this creature called Very Important Person in the studio of a TV channel last week. Even as opinion-mongers cited poetry of the likes of Surjit Patar and songs of the pop-it-open generation to make a point, somewhere in Chandigarh another young man was being challaned for using a red beacon atop his car without permission.
It reminded me of the instance when the son of a former top cop danced in defiance on the bonnet of his SUV after he was issued a challan for illegally using a beacon on his personal vehicle. No, he was not drunk, but just a kaka high on his mummy-daddy’s power. And these are instances in Chandigarh, where police usually act before you can make that phone call to a VIP ‘somebody’ who happens to be a friend of your second cousin’s next-door neighbour. What happens in the rest of our country is no secret.
How does one explain this lust for law-breaking authority and shameless display of selfishness? Human nature, one would presume. Then, what about countries where this culture does not exist? An informed answer would blame our still-fresh feudal history and the British Raj culture superimposed on an imperfect democracy. There are a number of arguments also on the fiscal costs of sustaining this VIP culture. One significant point came up during the hearing of a petition in the Supreme Court — while there are three cops for each VIP, there is just one cop for every 700 of the rest of the population.
Embedded in our Constitution, trappings of the VIP-ness, however, transcend security matters. It is a matter of who has the first right over basic resources like medical facilities and even airline seats and cinema hall seats. This writer had a minor firsthand experience of this in what used to be Chandigarh’s only mall at one time — the chief minister of a neighbouring state walked in 20 minutes late, and the movie was restarted!
The need, therefore, is to go beyond the fiscal arguments, and decode what you feel in such instances, when a cavalcade of vehicles passes you by as you wait for the political, bureaucratic and ‘relative’ royalty to give you back a road constructed with your tax money. You feel a loss of your dignity.
A vicious cycle is started when you reclaim that dignity by somehow grabbing hold of that red beacon and getting right of way at a traffic signal, even if an ambulance struggles to get a rightful passage. This is the hypocrisy that breeds the VIP culture. Merit holds no significance in such a display of brazen me-first approach.
But no appeal to morality and good sense can succeed without the crutch of law. Voices against VIP culture are drowned out, thanks largely to the law of the land that doles out privileges to a chosen few. There needs to be a wholesale change, and courts have so far managed to gets lists of VIPs pruned from time to time, one judge even going to the extent of questioning the judiciary’s right to have red beacons. Progress is slow.
For a faster solution, you may try to spot a sign of times to come in the social media. Be it a Manpreet Badal who travels without disturbing security detail, or Rahul Gandhi waiting in a queue to cast his vote unlike his mother, their acts of ‘sacrifice’ are shared zealously on Facebook and Twitter. But when shunning VIP-ness will stop being a VIP trait in itself, we will have made real progress.