VIP culture: a false sense of privilege

VIP culture: a false sense of privilege

I saw a couple of videos on social media recently that caught my eye — one was of the Italian prime minister travelling by a taxi without much ado to meet the country’s president; the second was the Dutch prime minister inadvertently spilling some coffee and then simply taking a mop and cleaning it up. Both were accompanied by another very telling fact — that the people around them did not rush to make things ‘easier’ for these VIPs either. In fact, they did not really care.

The photograph of a former British prime minister himself loading his household articles into a van as he moved out of his official residence after completing his tenure as prime minister also comes to mind.

These videos revealed a lot — the lack of a sense of self-assumed privilege and importance in these ‘VIPs’ and, more importantly, a lack of a sense of over-enthusiasm in their ‘cronies’ to bend over backwards in an effort to please them.

Compare this with the much-reported news of an Indian chief minister, who incidentally prides herself on being ‘connected’ to the masses, feeling belittled for having had to walk a short distance since her convoy took longer than expected to pass through a traffic jam. Judge for yourself, who is the bigger person: the Indian CM or any of the European ‘VIPs’ mentioned above. 

We take great pride in the civilisational values of India and its culture. However, it is these incidents which make me wonder — don’t such instances demonstrate that the West is far ahead of India in terms of social advancement and social etiquette?

Will we in India —with our persistently feudal mindset of assuming self-importance wherever we can, and treating others as ‘mai baap’ when they hold ‘important’ positions in society — ever be able to achieve the civilisational advancement that the western countries (or, at least, some of them) have?

The behaviour of Indian ‘VIP’s (or persons who assume themselves to be VIPs) is not a reflection on those individuals alone, it is also a rather dim reflection on the feudal mindset of the citizenry which finds it necessary and appropriate to treat someone as so important as being above and beyond everyone else.

Even people who are normally critical of such behaviour often bend over backwards when they have an opportunity to please someone holding a seemingly important office. In fact, most people who are critical of such behaviour would behave in an identical fashion if they were in a position to do so.

Everyone secretly, and sometimes not so secretly, wants to be that VIP who has people opening doors for him, garlanding him, standing in queues for him and cleaning up his spilt coffee.

‘Lal batti’ craze

The ‘lal-batti’ may have been taken away, but the mindset remains — both amongst the people who used the ‘lal-batti’ as also amongst the persons around them who attach a premium to the ‘lal batti’. I dare say, the behaviour of the Italian and Dutch prime ministers was possible in large measure because the people in these countries would have tolerated nothing else. For them, and for the people surrounding them, being normal was therefore quite normal.

Just notice the things we see every day in India — everyday reflections of who is ‘privileged’ and who isn’t: lengthy discussions and debates are held on who is to be exempted from frisking at the airport; large boards exist beside highway toll-booths to demonstrate that some people are ‘important’ enough to be exempted from paying toll (and those who aren’t included feel belittled); red lights above cars have been done away, yet there are exceptions made for the privileged few.

I do think it is high time we, as common citizens, changed our mindset. It is time for us to lose our own sense of being unimportant simply because we aren’t entitled to drive around with a red light on top of our cars. It is time we started treating our ‘VIPs’ as just people doing their jobs just like everyone else, instead of treating them with a reverence that must ideally be reserved for gods and similar other beings!

It is time for everyone to realise that it is quite normal to stand in a queue to buy a ticket, no matter who you are. Travelling by public transport or standing in an ATM queue ought not to be even significant enough to merit a photo op! When we are able to do that, we would have taken a huge step towards being a ‘developed’ society in a true sense. Until then, I dare say, it might only be our economy that is ‘developing’, not us.

(The writer is Advocate on Record, Supreme Court)