In a significant first step at ending the obnoxious VIP culture in the country, the Narendra Modi government has decided to end the practice of cars displaying the ‘Lal Batti‘ from May 1. The move has been welcomed widely with the Prime Minister himself alluding to being the ‘servant of the the people’.
This is unlikely to reduce the sense of entitlement as the system itself needs radical reforms. Henceforth the enforcement agencies and ambulances requiring to speed up can use the flashing blue lights for clearing the way.
The swanky cars of VIPs with the red beacon amounted to conferring power to these busy bodies smacking of colonial supremacy. More than the red beacon’s status symbol there was a tendency to misuse the facility.
A lot more needs to be done beyond mere symbolism. If this is aimed at asserting democratic equality, the Centre will have to come down heavily on a lot of other irritating aspects particularly stopping traffic on key roads for interminably long periods during VVIP movements.
This has inevitably delayed seriously ill patients reaching hospital on time because of which precious lives have been lost. What is a shame is the cops blindly following orders without even listening to the entreaties of the people that a seriously ill patient or a pregnant woman who is in labour needing immediate medical attention has invariably fallen on deaf ears.
It is time that this country puts an end to the VIP culture of privilege and entitlement. However, commitment has been lacking. When an MLA suggested in Madhya Pradesh that the VIP culture should be abolished, he was mocked at.
Recently there was the Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad taking pride and justifying hitting an Air India employee with his shoe.
It was shameful that Parliament failed to disown Gaikwad. This abuse of power was let off with an apology. When the constitutional guarantee of special treatment or protection is misused, ways have to be found to stop it. Amid all this the average citizen suffers as he is not on a par with an MLA, an MP or a minister in enjoying equality before law.
Thanks to Modi the country’s VIP culture is being shaken up. This puts the brakes on the central and state governments nominating dignitaries who could use the red beacon. Accordingly, the Central Motor Vehicles Rules of 1989 are being amended symbolising an assault on India’s over reaching VIP culture.
At the same time over the last three years the governments in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab having different political governments had limited the use of red beacons.
It was not surprising that Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh welcomed the move while Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik promptly removed the red beacon no sooner than he head the union cabinet’s decision on April 19.
Simultaneously, the call for a review of other VIP privileges at the tax payers money is gaining ground. The big bungalows in Lutyens Delhi in which ministers, MPs and senior bureaucrats reside with acres of land available to them must be replaced with functionally efficient accommodation which is decent and functional.
There are several other perks and privileges that the MPs enjoy. Several years ago the MPs demanded a red beacon for their cars as well. It is also questionable why the salaries of ministers and MPs is tax free.
It is heartening that the Modi government has taken the bold step of doing away with the “lal batti” VIP culture which is what ambitious MPs desired at the Centre some years back. The quest of legislators in the states has always been the ‘Lal Batti’ as a stepping stone to pelf and power.
(T R Ramachandran is senior journalist and commentator. Views are personal.)