Security unconsciousness


Never blame the dead, they say. They are wrong. For, there are valuable lessons to learn from the mistakes committed by the dead, in life. Consider the King of Kadapa, the late chief minister of Andhra Pradesh Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, who earned the prefix ‘late’ far too early for his and his Congress party’s liking. Riding the pinnacle of political success, he did just what many predecessors of his ilk have done and paid dearly with their lives. It can be called a state of “security unconsciousness”, a pathological condition that afflicts the rich, famous and powerful. YSR’s was a similar affliction.

It is an irony that he set out to monitor drought relief operations in beating rain, that too by helicopter. Even if he had alerted his security personnel barely two hours before his fateful heli-hop, he would have been forewarned of the inclement weather enroute to his destination.
For a politician of his vintage, he must have also been fully aware of the dangers of flying a helicopter in bad weather and, most likely, ignored safety and security advice. And last but not the least, as an elected representative of the people for nine terms, he should have taken responsibility not just for his own life, but also that of his officers and the pilots accompanying him.

Unanswered question
But, he seems to have thrown all these precautions, literally, to the winds. For, the repeated question raised by the bitterly crying wife of Andhra Pradesh’s Principal Secretary K Subramanyam, who went down with YSR, is why did the chief minister’s entourage have to fly if the weather was bad?
Finding the answers will be an exercise in futility unless and until politicians as well as officers choose to learn from this tragedy and practise it as an important lesson in personal and public safety. Congress leader Renuka Choudhury put it succinctly to a mediaperson: “We politicians should realise that our power cannot overrule inclement weather.”

To err is human; for politicians and celebrities, not to understand security compulsions and err repeatedly, is even more human. There are any number of instances of how power had the power to make people do what they shouldn’t and wouldn’t normally do.
Iron Lady Indira Gandhi, the late prime minister, ignored an Intelligence Bureau note, not to hire Sikh bodyguards after the Blue Star Operation to flush out Sikh extremists from the Golden Temple in Amritsar. She was gunned down by her Sikh securityguards at point blank range.
Her son and successor Rajiv Gandhi, also assassinated, was on the hit list of the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka for sending the Indian Peace Keeping Forces to assist the island government in its anti-Tamil operations. He had explicit security advice not to allow anyone get up close to him - that is within ten feet of him in public functions. During an election rally at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu in 1991, people’s mad frenzy apparently made him frenetic. He fell to a suicide bomber, who first garlanded him and bent down to touch his feet. The lady bomber’s ‘deadly obeisance’ set off bombs strapped to her abdomen.

Kannada film thespian Rajkumar overlooked threat perception from forest bandit Veerappan and visited his Gajanur farm house on the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border unescorted, to fulfill an “irresistible urge”. He was kidnapped and held hostage in the Sathyamangalam forest. It took the two State Governments and a heavy toll on the Kannada film industry to secure his safe release.
Abroad, American President John F Kennedy and more recently Pakistan leader Benazir Bhutto, similarly erred to die. Kennedy was shot dead while waving to the crowds from the open hood of his convertible, while Benazir, flushed with her comeback success after a prolonged exile in London, made two uncalled for stops to greet her supporters when she was targeted. She got out of her bullet proof car, got in and again rolled down the glass of her car window when a bullet splinter fatally struck her.

Security consciousness
All these accidents, preventable or otherwise, go to show that VVIPs suffer from very low security consciousness in the lap of runaway success and popular support.
Senior Congress leader S M Krishna blamed the same popularity bug for even the verbal excesses politicians indulge in, when egged on by huge audiences. Varun Gandhi’s hate speech against Muslims during the Lok Sabha elections is one such verbal misadventure.

Why just politicians, even the media is not free from this popularity malaise. While reporting YSR’s tragedy, the media conveniently forgot the other four passengers of the ill-fated helicopter and their grieving families, except for making sparing and few and far between references. No state honours either for the officers, who followed their leader in death in the call of duty; and no suicides and shock deaths at their sudden loss, as being reported in the case of YSR.

Hierarchy of tragedy
YSR’s disappearance and death was solved in less than 24 hours with the Central and Andhra governments pulling out all stops. He has been laid to rest and a state mourning is on. In  remote Devar Nimbargi village in Indi taluk of Karnataka’s Bijapur district, four-year-old Kanchan fell into an uncovered defunct borewell on Monday last, nearly 36 hours before YSR’s heli-mishap. The Army and district administration have been battling to rescue her, but in vain. With their child’s fate hanging in the balance, her daily wager parents do not know whether to laugh or to cry.
Death is a great leveller, they say. They’re wrong once again. Inequality pursues us after life too. So, the sooner our leaders learn to respect safety and security norms, the better for all of us.

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