Beacon ban, first red signal to VIP culture

The government deserves praise for its decision to put an end to the use of flashing red beacons atop the vehicles of ministers and government servants. These lights have become symbols of power and authority and have marked the line between the common people and the high and mighty. The Supreme Court had, in 2013, directed the government to ensure that only high dignitaries holding constitutional offices use the red lights on their vehicles. The government has decided to amend the motor vehicles rules of 1989 to provide for their use only by a few dignitaries including the President, the Vice President and the Chief Justice of India. There will be no exceptions, as the enabling rule itself will not be there, and the government has said that the measure would strengthen democratic values.

Red beacons are only one among the many symbols of the VIP culture that pervades the top echelons of power. A ban on them would be a mere token gesture when the mentality that made them a sign of high position holds sway in the minds of leaders and officials. There are many other ways of flaunting status, prestige and power and they are meant to assert the superiority of a few over the vast multitude of common people. There is a hankering after bigger and higher security even when there is no threat to the life and limb of the VIP. The degree of inconvenience caused by convoys of cars that cause traffic jams is the measure of the leader’s importance. To allow security checks is infra dig. The refusal to stand in the queue like ordinary people, the demand for quotas, free rides and special treatment in every field and the right not to pay tolls, levies and taxes, to delay planes and trains and to hit others are all part of the VIP culture.

This arises out of a sense of superiority, entitlement and privilege. The Supreme Court had called the obsession with symbols of power an expression of the raj mentality. But it has deeper and stronger roots in the feudal attitudes and unequal relations that have ruled our minds and are still the norms in society. The red beacon that disappears from cars will continue to show on faces, in words, gait, demeanour and conduct. It is against the democratic spirit but this sense of entitlement has only grown over the years. It is now difficult to imagine that the country’s first prime minister wrote a letter of appreciation to the railway guard who refused to open the manned gate for him and his entourage and made him wait there for 20 minutes.

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