With the Arvind Kejriwal-led state government in Delhi shunning the VIP culture and trappings of power, such as red beacon cars, police security and government bungalows, voices are saying that state politicians must follow suit.
Delhi state cabinet has declared that no ministers or officials will use red beacon cars.
Insiders speak about the various “perks” that people in power enjoy, ranging from the cars being misused for non-official purposes by family members, crores of public money being spent on refurbishing cabins and bungalows to beefy police bodyguards following protectees around and sometimes getting involved in things far beyond their scope of duty and VIP convoys holding up traffic at busy junctions.
They claim that people exaggerate threats to themselves to get police protection as a “status symbol” and vie for sinecures, like appointments on various state-run corporations, to get a toehold in the hallowed precincts of powers. Moreover, the common people are also not allowed to enter Mantralaya before 2pm. Once the new access control system in the building comes into force, people may find it even tougher to meet officials.
However, though it exists, serving to keep the people at a distance from those in power, the VIP culture in Maharashtra is said to be comparatively less oppressive than that in northern states.
But there are people who feel that the new idiom in politics is a welcome change from the sanitised VIP culture prevalent in India today, which sets the modern-day rulers apart from the people at large.
“Basically, the VIP culture came in due to the British,” noted former MLA and socialist Dr Kumar Saptarishi, pointing to the elite clubs that sprang up during the Raj, with entry and membership reserved for whites.
“Like the British tried to show that they were different from Indians, these Indians are trying to show that they are separate from Indians,” said Saptarishi, likening these perks to a psychological “auto-suggestion” where VIPs felt it made them stand out among the masses. “The AAP’s attempt is a change, this is denial of the present political culture,” he added.
However, senior BJP leader and former Union minister Ram Naik said, “This seems to be a gimmick of sorts.” He added that ministers from the middle-class needed official space to meet officials and people and fulfil their duties. Naik, who recounted how he and veteran socialist leader late Mrinal Gore took the local train to attend the session of the state legislature, said while unnecessary expenditure needed to be cut down, ministers needed necessary facilities so that they could work effectively.
“Gradually, all are taking a lesson from this. Soon, other parties will take a leaf out of the AAP’s book,” said irrigation scam whistle-blower and former irrigation department chief engineer Vijay Pandhare, who has since joined the AAP.
“The unnecessary expenditure (on facilities to ministers, babus and VIPs) and security can be reduced,” said Pandhare, adding that it was necessary for this exclusivist culture to change.
“Ministers and bureaucrats need to be identified in traffic,” said a former bureaucrat, justifying the use of red beacon cars by the ruling class, adding that while this was necessary for those in crucial departments like home for functional reasons, others could shun it.
“These facilities are misused by those who don’t belong to this category,” he said, adding official cars were also used to transport family members of ministers and babus, members of their entourage and hanger-ons. “However, there are those who justify the use of official cars by family members due to the security angle. This is debatable,” he said.