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Rewarded in Dubai, rapped in Calcutta

Sergeant Rajat Krishan stopped a minister’s car in Calcutta because it did not have the mandatory sticker. The next day he was shunted out.

Washington, Nov. 2: Many years ago, when this correspondent was living in Dubai, the Gulf emirate’s strongman, Shaikh Mohamed bin Rashid al Maktoum, was stopped by a police constable for overspeeding while he was driving his new Range Rover with ordinary civilian number plates.

The constable did not recognise the driver as Shaikh Mohamed, not even after he told the young, Sandhurst-trained Shaikh that he was being booked on a speeding charge.

The constable ought to have known! Shaikh Mohamed was effectively the constable’s boss because he was the super-chief of the Dubai police department.

Not just that. The emirate’s intelligence apparatus reported to him and he was head of Dubai’s army units. In addition, he was defence minister of the Gulf federation of seven sheikhdoms, the United Arab Emirates.

Shaikh Mohamed handed over his driving licence so that the constable could write out a challan. As the constable proceeded to write out the speeding ticket, he read the driver's surname: al Maktoum. They are the ruling family of Dubai.

The constable had already written out the Shaikh’s first and middle names. Then he hesitated. He wanted to return the driving licence.

But Shaikh Mohamed would have none of it. He told the constable to write out the ticket and keep the licence to be sent to the traffic court, as required under law at that time.

Which he did, although not knowing what to expect next. Dubai, after all, is no democracy. It does not have people’s representatives like Bengal’s senior minister Asok Bhattacharya, who are supposed to uphold the law. The rule of the al Maktoum family is absolute and undisputed.

Shaikh Mohamed has since become Dubai’s crown prince, its de facto ruler. The day after he booked the Shaikh, the constable got a call asking him to report immediately to the police headquarters.

The poor constable thought his goose was cooked. He would lose his job. But would he go to jail' Disappear' He drove to the headquarters with trepidation.

When he arrived, he was met by his immediate boss, who took him to the police chief, a colonel in the force.

The colonel stood up, shook the constable’s hand and gave him two letters. One was a commendation by the colonel for doing his duty. The other was an order giving the constable a double promotion.

Some years later, when this correspondent was in Abu Dhabi, there was yet another incident, even more remarkable.

Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, the ruler of Abu Dhabi and President of the UAE, was driving around town. He just had one jeep with bodyguards in tow.

Those were the days when terrorists did not target heads of state or government. Shaikh Zayed’s car collided with another automobile driven by a Sudanese expatriate. The President stopped his car. So did the Sudanese driver, who angrily got out of his vehicle. Only to discover to his consternation that he had just hit the President’s car.

Shaikh Zayed calmly told the Sudanese to get into the presidential vehicle. It was an order that could not be refused. Silently, he drove with Shaikh Zayed to his palace and like the policeman, did not know what to expect.

At the palace, he was given refreshments and told to wait in a room. Would he be deported, the Sudanese wondered' Or jailed'

After a couple hours, a palace official emerged. The official gave the Sudanese the keys to a brand new Mercedes. It was to be his. A gift from the President.

Neither of these incidents has been reported. The press in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which is ‘guided’ by the authorities, was, in fact, told not to report.

Neither Shikh Zayed nor Shaikh Mohamed needs the publicity. They don’t have to win elections.

It happens in India too, but rarely. Many years ago, as this correspondent was coming out of a building in Mumbai’s Malabar Hill, there was quite a scene.

A policeman had stopped a Maharashtra minister’s car with all its official paraphernelia for jumping a red light. The minister’s gunman argued with the policeman.

The minister’s staff cajoled him. But the policeman stood his ground. He had the police commissioner’s orders to book any car that ignored the red light, he said. And unlike in Calcutta this week, the policeman was not pulled out of his duty.

In Washington, public officials, howsover important, are denied access if they fall foul of security requirements. Their cars are towed away — at owner’s cost — if they have no stickers.

Last year, while covering Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to Moscow, this correspondent saw Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov come out of a Kremlin building and wanted to go back in through a different entrance.

He was subject to the same checks that members of the media had to go through. In the age of terror, the only way to ensure security is to follow the law to its last letter.

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