To be ordinary

Other VIPs need to follow the prime minister’s example and shun privilege

Published:January 20, 2009 1:46 am

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,by travelling to the Delhi Regional Transport Office to get his driving licence renewed,has shown India’s chosen people — its VIPs and VVIPs — the light. The RTO is one of the many places VIPs don’t need to visit,despite procedural requirement,to get work done. Now,democracy they say distributes power,rights and duties. Legislators,as representatives of the people,are said to exercise power on behalf of the latter. In their role as custodians of that enormous public trust,legislators bear a burden and therefore may need certain privileges for their convenience and security.

But what happens when the world’s largest democracy,in an enormous perversion of a relative necessity,magnifies its scope,destroys its rarity,and turns it into a symbol more of status (and power) than convenience,thereby creating and demarcating from the public,a “ruling” elite? We get the monstrosity of India’s VIP culture. We get long lists at airports or highway toll plazas of those exempted from security checks or toll tax. We get ministers of every rank and their kin throwing spectacular tantrums demanding exceptional treatment at airports or free passage on highways. We get proliferating red beacon cars that park illegally. We get Lok Sabha speakers who cancel foreign tours fearing airport frisking. And the government tries to redress the problem by adding to the list of the blessed.

Over decades,the term “VIP” (and it extension,“VVIP”) has

expanded in the public perception to include anybody who boasts wealth (and thereby power and privileges). A democratic edifice that triggers anti-establishment sentiments in ordinary citizens is vulnerable. This newspaper has long argued for effectively curtailing VIP culture and rescuing democracy,and asked leading politicians to set an example. In India’s interest they should follow the PM’s lead.

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