What will happen if a God you prostrate before suddenly jumps in front of you, a scene taken out of Christopher Nolan’s Inception? You’ll be shocked, in awe and will probably take a moment or two to realize that your purpose on Earth has been solved. You will meet your creator, you will be a step closer to divinity. Now, take a brief moment to realize that this scenario won’t probably ever happen, and even if it does, these lines would be music to your ears by then.
The above mentioned, coming of age cum true realization moment should only be reserved for the real Gods, for beings who are “above” than the normal beings, for someone who is a person with actual importance (VIP). However, you are all of this and MUCH more if you are a CM/DM/FM/HM in India and the amount of reverence increases as you further cling on to the upper echelons of the political/administrative/judicial rungs of the ladder.
Who is a VIP in India?
The answer to this question is even simpler: everyone who feels entitled can join the elite University of VIP. A VIP is an acronym for a Very Important Person. How much ever it is just a basic way to self gratify, a VIP, once named one behaves in a manner where one asks in bewilderment whether he is obliged to behave like that or is it just a façade to hide his/her own insecurities. The adage, “if you have it, you should boast it” has references even in the Manusmriti. Apart from the mundane subordination of castes, it also details the ‘steps’ to become a perfect woman, where she is supposed (?) to “never do anything displeasing to her husband, whether dead or alive”
Then came the Britishers to India and with a whole new upsurge in white supremacy and ostracization of the natives, we were made to believe that only a select few are to be respected and rest everyone are running the squalid rat race. The feudal system had always existed in India, however, it reached its zenith during the colonial rule and that was just the tip of the iceberg.
Cut to the twentieth century, where rapid advancement in science and technology are making us question even our own capabilities and where a world is faced with a zoonotic disease (which are just beginning to surface), ‘VIP shasan’ in India is a far deep rooted and even more penetrative pandemic than ever. This pandemic has not taken a substantial number of lives in the physical form, but the impact which it leaves on the psyche of the citizenry, that no matter how much you toil, no matter how much everyone is equal in a democracy, whether a billionaire or a pauper, if you are not a VIP, you are simply not important enough.
The malaise of the VIP culture: who to blame and how much to blame?
To analyse a phenomenon truly, one must know about its history, its current form, and its speculative nature regarding the future. Presently, the VIP culture is very much prevalent in our society as seen during the passing of a cavalcade of a particular minister from one point to another. Or, where another minister makes a state run (well, before) airlines wait due to him being late. There are another examples in our daily lives where we come across people who get their work done due to some “jugaad” they use via their resources. Now, in a parallel world, this might be christened as corruption, but here we will strictly be dealing with a subset of it which is not always corruption but a feeling of self entitlement and ego boosting which has the equivalence of the number of likes you have got on your social media post. Zilch. Zero. Aryabhatta’s Eureka moment.
Having said that, VIP culture is not just in politics. It starts at home where a child is shushed because he doesn’t possess the requisite ‘experience’ that his elders do. It continues at school where the teachers are too judgemental and fixated on his marks. Further, it reaches to the corporate and governmental offices where a section of workforce is designated as “babus”, “chotus”. It doesn’t end there and when he/she gets married, the bread earner gets the VIP treatment even if he/she is contributing towards other chores. The marauding presence of VIP culture is not only when a minister flaunts his power, it has its seeds sown way before. The ire should not be aimed at the politicians, celebrities, etc, it should be aimed at the structural and behavioral tenets of our society and most importantly, the individuals themselves.
Law and VIP ‘shasan’
The growing annoyance amongst the treatment meted towards the VIP (especially the politicians) culminated in the judgement given by the Apex Court in Abhay Singh v. State of U.P. Here the Courts took up a number of issues. The issue whether Article 18 and Article 38 were being violated by the use of red beacon lights, insignia, convoys /escorts by politicians was dealt with. Also, the court looked into the violation of Article 21 and Article 14 by the unequal treatment given to a select few by the mere nature of them holding a certain office.
In an emphatic decision given by the court, the visions and ideas of our Constitution framers were evoked. The court noted Pandit Nehru’s emphasis on the formation of an Indian Republic where all the power is generated through and by the ‘people’ of the country, the ‘people’ here being all the people and no such distinction should be made. Dr. Rajendra Prasad’s dialogue while addressing the Constituent Assembly was also mentioned by the Court. The country’s first President talked about a country where the “distinction between high and low, between rich and poor” will disappear. Thus, both the visionaries vehemently talked about ending the entitlement given to a select few where others are not allowed to catch up let alone enjoying the privilege.
In Abhay Singh, the Court thus restricted the use of red beacon lights with/without flashers to a few “high dignitaries” only and hence tried to bridge the gap between the so called VIPs and the others.
In another instance the Uttarakhand High Court held the Uttarakhand Former Chief Minister Facility (Residential and Other Facilities) Act, 2019, (hereinafter UFCMFA) as unconstitutional. This Act tried to waiver the rent and the facilities being enjoyed by the ex-Chief Ministers. The Court came heavily upon the inconsistencies of the said Act and ordered all the former Chief Ministers to pay the rent for the bungalows occupied by them at the current market rate and also repay the amount spent on the facilities given to them.
When can we get rid of the VIP ‘shasan’?
The decisions in the Abhay Singh case and the holding in UFCMFA is surely a great leap forward. The author however is of the belief that these decisions are symbolic more than revolutionary. Having said that, the credit must be given where it is due and the tide should change now.
The citizenry should not just settle and accept the status quo of feeling like an ‘outsider’ in a society so cohesive. Everyone plays an equal part in the nation building and destroying. When everyone will be accountable to the nation’s loss/gain, then only the anachronistic ‘VIP culture’ will come to an end. The State, on the other hand should be following the models of some countries where you are special not because of the bootlicking you did but because of your meritorious works. We should, as a society, rise above the petty nature of affairs and start accepting the minister/cricketers/actors/singers etc. as mere humans who ‘might’ have worked hard to reach where they are and not treat them as Gods. These VIPs too should start imparting the requisite skill set and work towards an egalitarian society and accept that they too are mortals. As Shakespeare rightly said, “O, it is excellent to have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant”.