The spin-off in Shimla would perhaps be better described as “severe inconvenience” rather than “disruption”, yet it sufficed to expose the hollowness of the claim that the much-condemned VIP culture would be eliminated by the official directive prohibiting the use of red beacons on vehicles carrying senior politicians and officials. Since it was a Prime Minister’s rally the complaints were generally muted, but normal life in the town took a drubbing when movement on the Ridge was curtailed, no alternative routes were available to people who needed to travel, some educational institutions and small businesses and shops were closed for the day, and many persons simply stayed home. Much of this was the “collateral damage” that has come to be associated with security: true that the Prime Minister, foreign dignitaries etc. do need “protection”, but the core issue is whether security has to be so very obtrusive that every member of the public is deemed a threat or risk? Along with the VIP culture has been forced down people’s throats a system in which no questions dare be asked about the actions of those providing security ~ removing the offensive red beacons was, and remains, only a cosmetic modification to a drill that has confused police arrangements with “security”. And the reality remains that security remains a status symbol, the larger the police squad accompanying the leader the greater his “clout”. It boils down to the red beacon, rather its absence, having only minimal impact on reducing inconvenience to the common citizen. A comprehensive, professional, re-look at security requirements is imperative ~ unless the Modi government thinks it has worked a miracle by ordering disconnection of red beacons.
What also needs another look ~ which the politicians are unlikely to undertake ~ is the venue of their public meetings: from the perspective of the hardships resulting to people living and working in the area. At present such venues are approved/rejected only from a security angle. The situation is complex, political personalities place much stock in attendance at rallies, hence party workers use means both fair and foul to swell the numbers.
During the UP campaign Mr Narendra Modi repeatedly commented on the size of the gathering he was addressing; Rahul did so too until he realized people were more interested in carrying home the string-cots laid out to add a rustic touch to his initial meetings. No cots for the taking translated into thinner crowds, and finally fewer votes. The media too tries playing the numbers-game, estimates of crowd-size serving as a popularity index. Terms like “massive”, “mammoth” and “well-attended” are sprinkled through media reports, based on “police estimates” which are often politicallycoloured. In such an ambience the removal of red beacons is an apology for dismantling the VIP culture.