Remember how in April 2009, VVIPs went into a tizzy when former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was frisked by the staff of an American airlines at Delhi airport before boarding a US-bound flight? What you may remember less well is that Mr Kalam himself cooperated and saw nothing damning in being patted down according to standard procedure. Now it turns out that instead of taking advantage of ‘standard procedure’, America’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will fall in line with India’s fabled VVIP culture. After requests from the Indian side at a meeting of the Indo-US joint working group in January to have some 30-40 categories of VVIPs exempted from being frisked, the news is that the TSA has agreed “on principle” to not frisk four or five categories of VVIPs travelling to the US. This, to our mind, is the expansion of a VIP — very idiotic policy.
The concept of a VVIP is a peculiarly (and ironically) socialistic India one that it picked up from the Soviets. It’s one thing for Heads of State and other senior members of the State to be shown the respect they may deserve; it’s quite another to kick up a roaring fuss when protocol is subsumed by professional practice. Is the Brahminical order so sacrosanct that the nation goes into a tizzy if frisking procedures are maintained? There’s an embarrassing quality to a demand made for our ‘VVIPs’ to be treated as royalty.
But to register that embarrassment, one must first be invested with a natural pride of being egalitarian. Which, alas, even if Mr Kalam displayed, his flunkeys and those self-styled upholders of national honour aren’t equipped with. It’s a pity if the American authorities succumb to what they may think as ‘culture-specific Indian customs’.