For most Indians, spotting a vehicle with a red flashing beacon means just one thing: That an important personality is travelling and you got to patiently let him or her pass. Simply put, a cause of heartburn for the common man.
However, all that’s going to change very soon. Come May 1, and the lal batti magic will be history. You will no longer vehicles with red beacons zooming past with swag, blinding you with their vanity.
In India, the ‘lal batti culture’ has become synonymous with massive public inconvenience. Even the Supreme court had called the misuse of the beacons as “a menace to society” terming them a ”status symbol”.
And they surely have been abused, unabashedly. Government officials and VIPs have often used this glaring sign of power to make their way out of gridlocked traffic and avoid queues, leaving other commuters helpless.
Which is why the newly announced ban on them is great. But is that enough?
A few days ago, video of an ambulance carrying a wounded child being blocked by policemen because of a visiting leader’s convoy in Delhi went viral, earning public’s ire. Such is the sense of entitlement that these VIPs have, that their smooth travel is deemed more important than a child’s life.
How Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad treated an Air India official who was just doing his duty is still fresh in our memory. He even had the gumption to brag about it on live television. And we saw how he got away with it.
These are, however, just two examples. Injustices perpetrated on the aam aadmi by these netas and babus are many.
The ban on red beacons will undoubtedly come as a slap on their faces. Banning it indeed conveys a good message, but a much bigger challenge lies ahead. Yes, they will be battling the traffic just like us from now on, but will the arrogance of power go?
The answer is no! An example is right before us, we didn’t even had to dig deep.
A BJP MLA was today caught on video thrashing toll plaza employees because he was angry after waiting for 10 seconds for his convoy to cross the toll. Read that again, not 10 minutes but just 10 seconds.
Such instances are not rare, unfortunately.
Think of the many delayed flights caused by the tantrums and late arrivals of the power-propelling politicians. Only recently, TMC’s Dola Sen delayed Air India’s Delhi-Kolkata flight by nearly 40 minutes after an argument over seating arrangement.
Given the many such examples of politicians flexing their muscles at the drop of the hat and the long pervasive sense of self-importance that they harbour, is indeed difficult to erase. Being “very important”, they get precedence over all the rest of us everywhere, be it parking spaces, functions, security checks and even religious places. Basically, in our faces, all the time.
With their fairy lights gone and privileged fortresses usurped, it is only obvious that they will now think of other significant ways to assert their importance. In that case, many more such beacons need to go and the VIP privileges need to be checked sternly.
The challenge is to disrupt the sense of power and privilege that their offices bring.
For starters, how about banning sirens and the practice of stopping the traffic to allow them a free passage? How about them waiting in queues at restaurants, events, airports just like us? How about them giving up quotas on railway ticket, housing and land?
And this is why the tweet by prime minister Narendra Modi that “Every Indian is special. Every Indian is a VIP” was a bit unsettling.
Every Indian is special. Every Indian is a VIP. https://t.co/epXuRdaSmY
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) April 19, 2017
No, Mr PM, the ban on red beacons alone doesn’t make ordinary citizens at par with ‘VIPs’.
If the government is really serious about ending this culture, the guns should come blazing at them in all directions.