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American? Step aside

The frisking of APJ Abdul Kalam in the US was a dumb idea. But are we guilty of under-frisking?

india Updated: Nov 14, 2011 22:35 IST
HT editorials

It’s good that the awful mess involving former president APJ Abdul Kalam being frisked at New York’s JFK Airport in September was brought to light and quickly settled. While Mr Kalam isn’t the sort who makes a hulabaloo about matters like this, the fact that India’s only octagenarian idol was made to feel unwelcome in the US got us mighty agitated.

We don’t know whether the security officers at JFK found Mr Kalam’s name to be suspicious or whether it was his shaggy look. But Mr Kalam was made to go through a detection test for explosives. Apart from possessing an ignited mind, our ex-prez is so safe that we can leave our children alone in a room with him. So the airport authorities should have, as they say in America, chilled.

But the question we’re asking ourselves now is not why Mr Kalam was frisked with such energy, but whether our airport security could be ‘stupid’ enough to frisk a foreign VIP, no matter how suspicious he may look. After much cogitation, our answer is no. Never mind heavily patting down ex-US president Jimmy Carter, or someone more important such as Henry Kissinger, our security personnel usually don’t bother much with genuinely suspicious folks, especially when they are — or seem like — VIPs.

In our khichdi mix of a feudal culture and modernity, we usually deem the act of frisking to be insulting for the person being searched. True, the chance of a VIP having nefarious plans and walking into the immigration line in any Indian airport is extremely slim. But someone with a nefarious plan looking like a VIP could easily crack the system. Which is why even as we are glad that the Americans apologised for what was done to Mr Kalam in New York, we suggest that our airport personnel start returning the gesture and begin frisking in earnest those whom they deem to be suspicious, regardless of whether they are VIPs or look-like VIPs. We could start by frisking loud American tourists. They always look terribly suspect to most of us anyway. We can apologise later if someone cooks up a fuss.