Indian cricket’s pin-up boy rides around town with ‘special’ permission for tinted glasses on his car. An actress diva gets bouquets at the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation at a hearing for alleged underpayment of duty on her Toyota Land Cruiser. And a car giant picks up the tab for the exorbitant duty levied on a Ferrari gifted to the nation’s biggest sporting icon.
In more ways than one, it pays to be a celebrity.
When Jharkand police sub-inspector Saifuddin Ahmed hauled up MS Dhoni for his SUV’s tinted glasses - an offence that attracts a Rs 90 fine - he was transferred the next day.
“Dhoni is one of the brightest stars of Jharkhand and cops need to be liberal since he runs the risk of being mobbed by adoring public,” state Chief Minister Madhu Koda pointed out.
When Sushmita Sen visited the BMC headquarters this week to contest charges of under-payment of duty on her imported Toyota Land Cruiser, she received a welcome fit for a Miss Universe.
“It was very touching. So many BMC employees, some with their families, made me feel as if I was coming home. I didn’t expect it - it was a hearing after all,” Sen told HT.
But Sen chose to remain mum on charges of octroi evasion and the penalty that is 10 times the amount, saying the matter was subjudice.
“India’s celebrities are outside the reach of law,” says sociologist Ashish Nandy of the Centre for Study of Culture and Society (CSCS). “Because of their proximity to politicians, celebrities bask in an immunity of sorts. After all, every party needs them to campaign for them.”
So, who’s to blame? It needs an empathetic senior to bring a celebrity to task, says Bureau of Police Research and Development chief Kiran Bedi. “A junior colleague will have the courage to take on the powerful only if his superiors back him,” she says, pointing out that none of the challans issued between 1982 and 1983, when she was in charge of Delhi’s traffic, were cancelled due to political pressure.
“You cannot expect a celebrity who is on television all the time to be treated like any other underprivileged individual,” says film director Mahesh Bhatt. “A policeman can’t be immune to the glamour.
Whenever principled individuals such as the sub-inspector in Jharkhand dare to act differently, the celeb hits back in one way or the other.”
Sometimes the backlash can have serious consequences. Allahabad DSP Ram Shiromani Pandey went to the Allahabad High Court alleging that he and his family were being harassed ever since he booked controversial UP minister Raja Bhaiya under POTA.
On January 16, a day before the Court ordered a CBI probe into the case, Pandey died in a road accident.
(With inputs from M Madhusudan in Ranchi)