Bravo Kalam

An unseemly fuss has been kicked up over the frisking of former President A P J Kalam at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International airport by employees of Continental Airlines in April this year. It appears that Kalam was frisked and asked to remove his shoes as he waited on the aerobridge to board the plane. This has our members of parliament up in arms. It is unfortunate that the former president has been subjected to this treatment and that too on Indian soil. This is not the first time that Indian dignitaries have faced this. Several ministers have been frisked, even strip-searched on arrival at US airports. Continental Airlines, a US carrier, has maintained that it is required under US law to frisk all passengers travelling to the US; hence the frisking of Kalam. The US frisking of inbound passengers is no doubt excessive, even intrusive. It is indeed discriminatory as it is not applied with equal intensity to passengers from all countries.

But the arguments being raised by many of our MPs have more to do with VIP privileges. At the root of their extreme outrage is a belief that VIPs are entitled to all kinds of privileges and concessions and that no restrictions should be imposed on their exercising of this right. Many of them see any restriction on their privileges as an affront, an assault on their special status. Their angry arguments apparently in defence of India’s honour are really about themselves and reveal deep reluctance to be equated with or treated like ordinary people. It is heartening to see that Kalam is not among this prickly, insecure lot. The former president apparently allowed himself to be frisked and did not kick up a fuss as do most of our politicians and officials and their hangers-on when expected to follow rules. The former president has conducted himself with utmost dignity. He has done Indians proud by not expecting to be treated any differently from ordinary citizens.
The government is reportedly considering reviewing the protocol procedures for visiting foreign dignitaries. Instead of this tit-for-tat response, it should examine the security system in place here which allows people of position and privilege to be exempted from rules, to slip through without being checked. It should review and remove the endless privileges that VIPs, their families and friends are extended in airports and other establishments.

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