Many leaders across the world have been known to take public transport. Not so our political worthies. Where possible they travel in cavalcades, with all the attendant trappings of ‘high’ office. This invariably means in-your-face security and that most potent of all symbols of authority, the red beacon atop the car.
The Supreme Court has berated the rampant use of beacons by politicians and government officials. The apex court said that this had become a “fashion and status symbol”. Its observation, on Thursday, that state governments should drastically cut down on the number of red beacons used on VIP vehicles is in keeping with the sentiments of many people who have had to suffer traffic disruptions that the passage of these personages creates. The SC bench has suggested that if necessary the Motor Vehicle Act should be amended to restrict the number of officials entitled to use red beacons.
While it is heartening that the court has taken notice of this unseemly show of ‘importance’, the initiative to do away with these excesses should have come from the politicians themselves. In the past, efforts to reduce the number of politicians enjoying security cover have been resisted strongly. It is understandable that those who face a real security threat be protected; it is passing strange that almost all our politicians seem to need protection. In fact, the provision and withdrawal of security cover has become a political game in itself.
In 2009 Prime Minister Manmohan Singh apologised to the family of a person who could not access the emergency area of PGIMER, in Chandigarh, because the PM was attending a function at the hospital. This was a laudable gesture, but on a daily basis there may well be several patients trying to reach medical help, students trying to reach examination centres or people trying to get to work who are held up by VIP traffic. The Supreme Court’s views should serve as a red light to those who still need enlightenment on the conduct of public life.