Red beacon ban: Removing flashing lights won’t cure those blinded by power, VIP culture | opinion | Hindustan Times
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Red beacon ban: Removing flashing lights won’t cure those blinded by power, VIP culture

Banning the red beacon or lal batti on vehicles carrying dignitaries and high officials is a good move, but nothing more than tokenism.

opinion Updated: Apr 27, 2017 10:06 IST
Vinod Sharma
Driver of Union minister Vijay Goel removing the red beacon from the minister’s car.
Driver of Union minister Vijay Goel removing the red beacon from the minister’s car.(PTI Photo)

The Centre’s decision to ban the use of red beacons is as symbolic as was their use on top of vehicles that carried dignitaries and high officials. The removal of flashing lights won’t cure those blinded by power. Or the way they flaunt it.

But the step against this magisterial aura marks a sound beginning. It’s in line also with the Apex Court’s advice to discard this practice which is unbecoming of a modern democracy. Such display of authority makes the sovereign – that is the people – assume a lesser position than their servants.

Yes, servants! Did the incumbent Prime Minister not call himself a servant of the people the way the first Premier did in his 1947 address from the Red Fort? Be it Narendra Modi’s Pradhan Sewak or Nehru’s First Servant, the sentiment remains the same. Primacy vests in the people!

But a lot needs to be done to make governmental authority people-oriented. Or to impart to it a benign makeover beyond the bayonets of armed guards used as status symbol, a la beacons, by politicos across India.

The ground reality is that only those with serious threats are actually guarded. The rest are rewarded at considerable cost to the public exchequer; the patronage extended at times to people with the worst criminal records and private armies of their own.

In the hinterland as also in small towns and cities, laal batti, gaadi, banglaa, bandook have for decades been associated with political and bureaucratic power. The vice-regal trappings were and are a veritable way of life in the interiors removed from the seats of power in States and at the Centre.

The red light became a red rag to the bull when the delivery system failed the people amid rising graft and injustice. In metropolitan India, beacon-fitted vehicles came to be despised, together with their occupants, for either causing traffic jams or cutting through them as lesser mortals watched in frustration.

Cover as it does the President and the PM, the ban should go down well with the common people. Its populist appeal is highlighted by the fact that it will come into force on May 1, the International Workers’ Day.

It means beacons -- the blue flasher -- will be allowed only on vehicles belonging to the fire service, police, army and ambulances, to ensure passage through traffic. Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari termed the move historic as it covered all vehicles barring emergency services.

Historic perhaps not, path-breaking yes! In recent years the Supreme Court on several occasions sought the removal of car beacons, dubbing them as status symbols synonymous with power. It also asked for pruning the list of VIPs allowed to use them.