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It’s time to change lanes

While we cool our heels in queues, our leaders get whisked past us in airports, in railway stations, in almost all public places, writes Chanakya.

columns Updated: Dec 08, 2012 22:38 IST

It's happened to you, it's happened to me. We are rushing somewhere and we're stopped in our tracks as we attempt to enter an arterial road. We sit there fuming and fretting for the longest time until the VIP cavalcade goes thundering past, red beacons flashing, menacing gun-toting security personnel hanging out of cars. All in the name of security. Now the Supreme Court has come down, the Lord be praised, on this traffic disruption thanks to a public interest litigation and more muscle to its elbow. And into the fray we have former solicitor general Harish Salve who has fired off a letter to the Delhi police commissioner asking him to take action to stop this disruption in our lives due to VIP traffic failing which he will take the matter to court.

Now I completely understand that a personage such as the prime minister or president cannot be waiting at traffic lights. And that people who face a grave threat perception cannot be knocking about with the rest of us on our cities' notoriously crowded roads. But surely, the government which does not shy away from spending money on the comforts of our elected representatives can at least think of a helicopter service for these august personages. This way we could get about our business.

The problem is that security today has become a power accessory. There are many of our worthies whom no one would want to harm even if they were paid to do so. But such is the size of their colossal egos that nothing less than all the bells and whistles of a very visible security detail will do. I can recall the many times I have been shooed off the road because some minor politico was passing by. It does not seem to have struck to many of them that it is more important to secure our cities so that we can all be safe than to individually secure the lives of these democratically elected people. Isn't it ironic that our netas are fearful of mingling with the people in whose name they rule?

It may interest you to know that Barack Obama, arguably a more high profile target for terrorists than many of our leaders, is able to move with lightning speed in his country. His cavalcade holds up traffic for no more than three minutes, yes three minutes for the most powerful man in the world. Across Europe, politicians often take the underground or other public transport to get to work and back. They do not get government housing nor do they get perks in perpetuity. They do not get free air travel after they demit office or any of the other freebies that are showered on our leaders.

In Britain, there was much outrage over some MPs fudging expenses, but they seem a mere bagatelle compared with what our MPs get even without cooking the books. This is not to tar everyone with the same brush. There are many of our leaders who tread the straight and narrow. But there are enough rotten apples to give the whole political class a bad name. We have all suffered in various ways. While we cool our heels in queues, our leaders get whisked past us in airports, in railway stations, in almost all public places. In fact, we have to efface ourselves.

The worst part of the traffic being held up for VIPs is not you and me sweating it out a bit. It is that a grievously sick person on his way to hospital could die and indeed there have been such cases in the past. A student going to write a crucial examination may find his life altered because he cannot reach the venue on time. A person going for a job interview may miss the boat just so someone whose life is deemed more important than that of ordinary people can reach his destination on time. This is infuriating. It is this vein of anger at such injustice, such inequity that people like Arvind Kejriwal have tapped into.

I cannot put the blame on the police alone as many people are doing. Can you imagine a traffic constable telling a VIP that he must wait his turn? The poor man would probably lose his job. Security does not have to be so in your face as it is in India. I have seen the Israeli prime minister waiting at a traffic light in Jerusalem some years ago. No doubt the security personnel would have ensured that he was not at risk. But there were no overt security paraphernalia, no beacons or black cats waving guns about. And please don't tell me that the Israeli prime minister is not a target for terrorists.

My point is that we can get better technology, more helicopter movement for VIPs, perhaps a dedicated lane on thoroughfares for emergency vehicles and VIP traffic. We saw how all of Mumbai came to a standstill for Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray's funeral. It is entirely possible that many Mumbaikars wanted to get on with their lives but could not for fear of either violence or getting stuck somewhere for ages.

Maybe, just maybe, our leaders should try to connect with the masses, not from distant podiums or from behind darkened windows. Who knows they might just find that we, the people, are quite a clubbable lot. In fact, they might just get to like our company enough to come slumming with us one of these days.