Published On : Sun, Mar 1st, 2015

Look at Your Nagpur City’s own VIP culture

Special facility for vehicular parking at Airport and Railway Station

IMG_2291Nagpur: I am not a great fan of the Times Now News Channel or its star anchor Arnab Goswami. And yet, I instinctively agree with the recent ‘anti-lal batti’ campaign he has begun on the Channel, as part of its primetime news programme, to do away with the appalling and antediluvian VIP culture that this country suffers from. This certainly is a very important debate, one which we should have had soon after the British left the country for good, almost seven decades ago. The British themselves moved on by changing their VIP culture in their country where senior leaders are often seen using bicycles to get around, but we are stuck with it. The Guardian newspaper summed up the Indian fixation with VIP privileges in the following words: “India inherited an obsession with precedence and hierarchy from British colonial rulers that has remained unchanged over nearly seven decades of independence.”

In Nagpur too, While we never bothered to question this culture of privileges, what is even more shocking is the response of our VIPs, most of who tend to vehemently, and shamelessly, argue that it is extremely important to confer such privileges to VIPs.

IMG_2292One can notice this at the Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar International Airport at Nagpur. There is separate enclosure where only VIP vehicles are allowed to be parked or wait for the VIP to be dropped or received. This include high ranking government officials too.

IMG_2294However, the common man though they can use the flight, have to come in a vehicle that is allowed to just drop and go. They will have to park the car in the normal parking and the person alighting from the plane has to walk to parking to get into his pick-up vehicle.

Why is this special treatment?

Nagpur Today ventured to the Nagpur Railway Station to find out if this is true at the Railway Station. However, a Traffic Police Head Constable Manoj Gupta said that though there is a road for the VIP and Government Vehicles to come and drop and go, and are allowed to be parked there for the VIPs to be picked up, they use their own discretion and do allow Handicapped, Aged or Senior Citizens to use the place.

IMG_2282He added that when there is excessive rush, they allow other private vehicles to use the way for drop and go too. He added that when necessary, they ask even Government officials vehicles to be parked in the regular parking only.
However, the scene was not the same at the Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar International Airport at Nagpur. We saw how the vehicles of Chief Minister’s motorcade parked in the Special VIP path, while others had to drop and go.

Supreme Court rulings

The Supreme Court took up the matter and tried clamping down on the lal batti culture in the country but without much success. In 2013, the SC bench hearing the petition on the use of red beacons noted: “What we have done in the last four decades would shock the most established political systems. The best example is the use of symbols of authority, including the red lights on the vehicles of public representatives from the lowest to the highest and civil servants of various cadres. The red lights symbolise power and the stark differentiation between those who are allowed to use them and the ones who are not. A large number of those using vehicles with red lights have no respect for the laws, and they treat the ordinary citizens with contempt. The use of red lights on the vehicles of public representatives and civil servants has perhaps no parallel in the world democracies.” It clarified that only a few constitutional authorities in the country such as the President, Prime Minister, cabinet ministers, governors, the Chief Justice of India, Supreme Court judges and the heads of both houses of Parliament should have the VIP status.

It also asked the state governments to prepare, publicize and enforce adherence to such a list. Many state governments are still to abide by the SC guidelines.

End VIP Culture 

In any case, the problem is not about flashlights and beacons alone but the entire system of privileges and freebees: free accommodation, domestic help and what not. In the case of army officers, there is a colonial-era provision of sahayak (batman), a soldier who is tasked to do domestic chores for the officer: from cooking food to walking dogs! On the issue of sahayaks in the Armed Forces, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence, in its 31st report on “Stress Management in Armed Forces” noted in 2008 that “the committee takes a very serious view of the shameful practice, which should have no place in independent India”.

Politicians are not the only ones to be blamed: there is a well-oiled, self-serving system of privileges and VIP culture in every walk of our country’s life: armed forces, civil services, judiciary. Many ordinary citizens also try to claim the VIP status for themselves by pasting “Army”, “Police”, or “Defence Ministry” stickers on their cars! The traffic constables who man the roads are unsure whom to stop given the all-pervasive “don’t-you-know-who-I-am” culture that exists in our country.

The airports have a different system of VIP treatment: those traveling business class and first class have dedicated fast-track immigration lines. Why should the government create special immigration lines for those traveling business class? Why should it differentiate among citizens on the basis of income? I can understand airlines having different boarding lines for business class passengers, but I simply can’t understand the logic of government following such a system for immigration formalities. Mind you, India is one of the very few countries that have this practice.

The overwhelming victory of the Aam Admi party is a clear indication of the popular frustration about this mai-baap culture in the country. The national Capital – Delhi – has indeed set an example for the rest of us to follow. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has promised to do away with the VIP culture and is leading the way by reducing the distance between the people and those they elect: none of his ministers are treated as VIPs.

Nagpur Today too invites its readers to point out the VIP treatment accorded to some. Send us at news@nagputoday.in

Samuel Gunashekaran