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Purely symbolic

Editorial | New Delhi |

The theory that “well-begun is half-done”, unfortunately, is unlikely to come into play in respect of the government’s excessively-hyped ban on red beacons on VIP-carrying vehicles. The claim is that a bid is underway to dismantle a sickening, discriminatory culture, when in reality only a symbol is being addressed. Ushering in a “cultural” revolution will require more than the gimmickry in which successive governments have indulged, and the Prime Minister’s ‘tweet’ that “every Indian is special, every Indian is a VIP” points to a supercilious over-simplification of a malaise that will not be remedied by tokenism.

Cars carrying the President, Vice-President, Prime Minister and Chief Justice may not flash red beacons from next month, but the security-detail accompanying VIPs will ensure that no other traffic is simultaneously permitted to ply the same roads. Doing away with the lal batti culture does not ensure equality, ask those who seek to meet the chief minister of Delhi who was among the first to discard the beacon.

Under the guise of “security” an impregnable wall has been built around political figures, senior officials, etc., ~ will the armed forces follow suit and do away with flags/stars on staff cars? The minister for transport, who would like to portray himself as a prime mover in the new drive, has also spoken of junking the bungalows of Lutyens’ luxury enclave in the Capital: the truth is that many of those structures are on the verge of collapse ~ and some of the new apartment complexes raised to accommodate MPs are nothing short of luxurious.

There would be countless other manifestations of the VIP culture, and even Mr Narendra Modi would find it hard to attain what his publicitymachine has just churned out ~ remember Arun Shourie’s observation about this government being capable of merely “managing headlines”. Still, it would be cynically unfair not to give the government “a chance”: if only there was a non-electoral way to make it pay for failure to live up to its promises.

Only a few weeks back the government had a heaven-sent opportunity to cut inflated VIP egos down to size, but it declined to punish a misbehaving MP and, instead, it “sold up the river” the unostentatious civil aviation minister who ruled that in matters of flight safety no allowances should be made for “passenger-status”. That the minister found little support, either in government or Parliament tells its own tragic tale.

The scrapping of the red beacons is, at best, a welcome first step but what follows is more important ~ will MPs no longer claim privileges, will officials stand in queues to buy cinema tickets? When again will the son of a Prime Minister join the crush of students seeking college admissions?