The recent incident in Bengaluru involving MLA NA Haris' son Mohammed Nalapad who, along with his friends, attacked a businessman's son in a pub and later in the hospital has once again focused attention on the VIP culture and goondaism indulged in by VIPs and their family members.
This, of course, is not the first incident involving the MLA's son. Sometime back, his name was mentioned in another brawl that took place in another city pub. But it is reported that on that occasion the victim was threatened not to file a police complaint and so the VIP son was able to go scot-free. At that time, the MLA denied the incident involving his son and claimed that he had brought up his son in a proper way.
What a fall for the MLA and his son, who had put up flex boards all around his father's constituency to mark his birthday and himself claimed to be a 'youth icon'! The Congress party has done well to expel him forthwith, more so due to the damage that he can do to the party's electoral prospects.
The VIP culture and goondaism indulged in by people's representatives and their family members are, however, not new and cut across party lines. Time and again, such incidents remind us that VIPs and their family members feel they are above the law, which apply only to ordinary mortals.
Lest we forget, in 2006, then CM H D Kumaraswamy's son and his friends vandalised a popular restaurant in Bengaluru's iconic Church Street merely because the restaurant, which had closed its kitchen, refused to serve food to the CM's son and friends well past midnight. Then, Kumaraswamy could have enhanced his image if he had ordered the police to act against his son and his friends for the vandalism. However, no action was taken.
It was reported that the police had instead threatened the management of the restaurant not to make an issue of the incident or they would be forced to go back to Kerala. It is also alleged that the police seized the CCTV footage of the incident from the restaurant.
In January 2017, BJP MP Ananth Kumar Hegde beat up doctors in a private hospital in Karwar in Uttara Kannada district because they had not given VIP treatment and prompt attention to his mother. At that time, BJP spokesperson G Madhusudan said the party had taken cognisance of the video clip showing the MP's vandalism in the hospital. He further said: "It is an individual's action for which the party is not accountable. It is definitely wrong on the part of the MP to do so." He assured further that the party would take action against the MP.
Instead, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has rewarded the MP with a ministership in his government, overlooking his unsavoury past and ignoring the claims of BJP seniors who had helped build the party in Karnataka.
In October 2012, then Congress MP Vitthal Radadiya flaunted a gun and attacked the staff at a toll station in Gujarat because they had had the 'audacity' to ask him to pay toll. He was later admitted to the BJP and put up as their candidate in the Porbander Lok Sabha election. Similar incidents of people's representatives belonging to BJP, Shiv Sena, TDP, RJD, Samajwadi party and BSP attacking toll stations across the country have been reported.
The vandalism and highhandedness indulged in by VIPs is not just confined to politicians. Similar stories have emanated involving road rage, pub brawls, attacks on police and government officials by Bollywood stars, family members of business people with political links, police and other government officials. When children of such VIPs are stopped by police for traffic violations, for instance, they threaten cops with a: "do you know who I am?"
Most often, police don't book cases against such VIP children because of the threat of punitive transfers to remote areas. In July 2017, in Uttar Pradesh's Bulandshahr district, woman police officer Shreshta Thakur slapped a fine on a traffic violator who turned out to be a BJP MP. Instead of appreciating the police officer, CM Yogi Adityanath transferred her to a police station near the Nepal border.
In May 2017, PM Modi took a bold step in banning red beacon lights on VIP cars carrying the President, prime minister, chief ministers, state and central ministers, Supreme Court and high court judges. Only ambulance vehicles, vehicles of fire services, police and army were permitted to use blue flashing beacon lights on their vehicles. Much before the PM's bold measure, CMs Yogi Adityanath, Capt. Amarinder Singh and Arvind Kejriwal had given up using red beacons on their vehicles. Most other VIPs grudgingly accepted the new rule.
Red beacons may have become history, but VIP culture is alive and kicking. The VIPs continue to flaunt their status in various other ways like claiming exclusive and prior access to airports and even the tarmac, rather than queue up and rub shoulders with cattle-class passengers, yearn for security by NSG, Black Cat commandoes, use all pressure tactics for allotment of prime mansions in Lutyens' Delhi and other VIP areas when they are elevated as ministers, and continue to reside in these swanky ministerial bungalows long after losing office, threaten BCCI and state cricket boards for issue of free VIP passes for themselves and their family members to watch IPL and other sports extravaganzas.
In some states in India, former CMs, despite becoming private citizens, are entitled to ministerial bungalows whereas in the US former presidents are only entitled to pension, allowances and security cover. Former US President Barack Obama, for instance, had to buy his own mansion in Washington after demitting office.
(The author is an economist)