The gods don’t discriminate on the basis of who is or isn’t a VIP. This is what the Tirumala Tirupati Devashthanam Board sought to underscore when it decided that there will be no more privileges for non-protocol celebrities like actors, business tycoons and sportspersons. The temple, one of the richest and most visited in the country, recently faced a revolt from devotees who were left to swelter in the sun as newly-weds Abhishek and Aishwarya had a 20-minute private darshan. Before that, of course, we had Bachchan Sr and friends holding up the proceedings at the temple. Our so-called VIPs have come to regard such instances of discrimination as a right. And mind you, there is no official definition of who exactly qualifies to be a VIP. Clearly, the concept of different strokes for different folks has become ingrained in the Indian psyche. So we have a major southern university relaxing attendance norms to ensure the smooth passage of the grandsons of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi and his cabinet colleague Arcot N Veeraswamy.
Nowhere is this blatant misuse of power more evident than in the capital where the VIP culture is literally in your face. While the non-priviligentsia has to cough up its hard-earned money to buy tickets to any cultural event, the VIP corners all the free passes. In public places, the VIP will not rub shoulders with ordinary citizens. Waiting rooms in airports have separate sections for VIPs and, of course, they never have to wait in a queue like you or me. When the VIP hits the road, the less fortunate have to make way as a frightening cavalcade of security men come thundering past. And no guesses as to who pays for all this.
The worst offenders are our elected representatives. The minute they assume office, they acquire trappings of power that would have put the viceroys of colonial times in a shade. We would do well to emulate the West in this regard. Whether you are President or Prime Minister, no one bends the rules for you. So we have Tony Blair’s son being hauled off to the police station for violating rules. Imagine that happening here. The police in question would probably have lost their jobs. It is high time, the government, in consultation with civil society, came out with a clear definition of who is entitled to special privileges. No one grudges extra security for a person who is under threat. No one but no one, however, deserves pride of place in public places or institutions. This defeats the very basis on which our democratic system is founded.