Dispensing With Red Beacon Is The Easier Part

By Sandeep Sahu

Much has already been written on the Modi government’s decision to ban beacon lamps of all hues from the vehicles of all our so called VIPs, including the President and the Prime Minister, with effect from May 1. Some governments, including our own, have shown amazing alacrity in dismantling the much sought after red beacon even though the deadline is still some distance away. As a symbolic gesture intended to convey the government’s resolve to end the much ridiculed and hated VIP culture in the country, the decision is unexceptionable. But will it make life any easier for the harassed common man? The answer has to be ‘No’ because the elephant in the room has shown no signs of moving out.

The real culprit is the elaborate security paraphernalia that accompanies our VIPs, the exemptions and preferential treatment they get at public places and the hassles that the common man is forced to endure to facilitate VIP movement. One has to go no further than the recent two-day national executive meeting of the BJP in Bhubaneswar to understand this. For the better part of two days, some of the busiest roads in the capital city were made out of bounds for the hoi polloi so that the big and the mighty could travel on them without any hassles, public be damned. The seemingly endless stream of vehicles that preceded and followed the Prime Minister’s Range Rover mocked at the people lined up behind the barricades. And it was not even an official visit!

The inconvenience caused to ordinary people by VIP movement has been justified on grounds of security. But didn’t the Prime Minister himself violate the protocol and endanger his security by standing on the foot rest of his vehicle and waving to the cheering crowds? When apologists of the VIP culture say the security of the Prime Minister – or the Chief Minister or minister as the case may be – is paramount, one is reminded of the visuals of former British Prime Minister David Cameron travelling on the London tube – holding a brief case in one hand and the bar above with the other. Do the Britishers, who gave the world the first taste of democracy, not care for the security of their Prime Minister? Just compare Cameron’s metro ride with the metro rides with visiting dignitaries that our Prime Minister is so fond of taking and you will get the drift of what this columnist is trying to drive home.

Nearer home, commuters who have the misfortune of using the road in front of Naveen Nivas on a daily basis recount harrowing tales of the inconvenience caused by the Chief Minister’s movement. Well before the Chief Minister exits his residence, traffic on both sides of Naveen Nivas is closed, only to be reopened well after the CM’s carcade has left. More than security concerns, it is a show of pomp and power. Why on earth should scores of security personnel keep patrolling the streets on either side of Naveen Nivas even when the Chief Minister is away in New Delhi? During a panel discussion on the issue a TV channel the other day, a senior BJD leader pointed to the incident of pelting eggs on the CM’s carcade a couple of years ago to justify the elaborate security arrangements. But is it not a bit like wielding a huge axe to kill a mosquito? Why did the entire road from Naveen Nivas to Ramadevi College have to be emptied of all human presence a few months ago to ensure that no missiles are thrown at the CM on his way to the college to attend a fucntion?

The Chief Minister has done well to dispense with the red beacon atop his vehicle within hours of the Union government’s decision. Now, it is time for him to take a leaf out of the book of Punjab Chief Minister Amrinder Singh, who did away with the services of close to 2000 personnel, including those engaged in providing him security, and prune the size of the security bandobast. It surely can’t be anyone’s case that the life and limb of the Odisha Chief Minister is any more in danger than his counterpart in Punjab, which has a history of extremism.

Dispensing with the red beacon is the easier part. The more difficult task is to dismantle what BJD MP Tathagat Satpathy derisively called the ‘A to Z’ security for VIPs. Apart from being an unnecessary show of power, it is a big drain on our resources. Blocking of roads for hours together to facilitate VIP movement has to go. People cannot be treated as dirt in a democracy.