The Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre has decided to get rid of red beacons on the officials cars of ministers, bureaucrats and other officials. The decision deserves to be applauded.
For long, the red beacon or ‘lal batti’ has had special meaning in political circles. The fight for a lal-batti car was synonymous with the intense tussle to grab power. In fact, many political leaders achieved career satisfaction when they became part of the power set-up, with an office and staff, a red-beacon car and a government bungalow. Obtaining and then retaining these symbols has been an important part of their political life. Now, it seems as though red-beacon cars will be history from May 1.
While the move is being welcomed, the obvious question being asked is: Will the VIP (very important person) culture in our political and government system end when the red beacons go? The VIP culture goes beyond the red beacons. It is characteristic of our political class. Most politicians are still unaware that common citizens do not approve of this show of power and sometimes, even the arrogance that comes with this VIP culture.
In their everyday life, they come across instances which remind them that they are minions compared to the VIPs. They are asked to get out of the way when a VIP cavalcade is passing through. It doesn’t matter if they are delayed when a road or a signal is blocked for ‘VIP movement’. It doesn’t matter if they are made to pay at a toll plaza for using a particular road or bridge, while a VIP zooms past the same place with half a dozen cars in tow.
Now that the PM has done away with red beacons, citizens will surely raise questions about VIP culture.
Why should traffic be stopped for the VIPs?
Though people understand that such a step is needed to ensure the security of certain top people, is it really required for every other person in power? While such disturbances are limited in a city such as Mumbai, they are common in other cities. And yes, there need to be restrictions on the use of sirens.
Why there should be a posse of policemen protecting VIPs? Do all ministers and officials need so many policemen? Or are they just a status symbol? Policemen are trained to maintain law and order, and detect crime. Why should such trained manpower be wasted on VIPs instead of protecting the common man? Why can’t the government depute guards such as the industrial security force for VIP protection and spare the policemen for crime prevention and detection?
Till a few years ago, police constables even worked as telephone operators at the bungalows of ministers and orderlies in the houses of senior police officers. Hopefully, they have been sent back to where they are needed the most.
In a state such as Maharashtra, the privileges enjoyed by VIPs go beyond this. For instance, they may get land to set up educational or charitable institutes at throwaway prices.
It is unlikely that all of these privileges will be revoked immediately as our politicians are much too used to them.
The good thing is that politicians are slowly realising that people don’t like their attitude anymore. Chief ministers such as Arvind Kejriwal, UP’s Yogi Adityanath and Punjab’s Amarinder Singh have taken or are taking steps to cut down on the VIP culture.
Let’s hope the removal of red beacons marks the beginning of the end of the notorious VIP culture.