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Chariots of safety for leader, streets of distress for people

A Naxalite leader, wanted by the police and carrying a reward on his head, was once asked why he did not disguise himself or use safer routes to move. It was because, he had replied, the secret of security lay in “normal behaviour” and not in unusual or abnormal ones, which would catch the eye. The man successfully evaded the long arm of the law.

A parallel can safely be drawn with the tamasha that accompanies VIP movement in the city, aimed to draw everyone’s attention to the VIP. Movement of VIPs should ideally be known only a short while before they actually drive in. But here, it is announced from the rooftop days before arrival. Traffic restrictions are declared days in advance, ostensibly to reduce harassment to motorists, and heavy police deployment, right from the morning of D-Day, makes it rather obvious.

Still, it is easy to understand why security agencies go into a tizzy every time the Prime Minister or the deputy Prime Minister flies into the city. Intelligence operatives the world over play it safe and are prone to issue alerts on the flimsiest of grounds and the thinnest of suspicion. From their point of view, such alerts are essential because they can never be sure that such attacks will not take place.

The day the Prime Minister arrived in the city, therefore, and the next day as well, the security agencies would leave nothing to chance and follow the “Blue Book on VIP security” strictly enough to cause some hardship to the common man. Those who were aware of the traffic restrictions, started early and took circuitous routes to reach railway stations, the airport and hospitals. Those who did not, paid for their ignorance.

There is no point in blaming the local cops, because the Prime Minister’s security drill is elaborate and starts days before his actual arrival. It is the job of the advance security team to ensure that the routes and the venue are “sanitised” and it is this team that calls the shots and influences decisions on closing down roads and shutting out traffic.

Every leader enjoying Z or Z-plus security is placed under a three-tier umbrella — an advance team, a static team and the close-proximity team. The movement of these teams is given precedence, even as the common man frets and fumes. That no security cover can ever completely cut off the possibility of attacks is acknowledged by experts.

When Indrajit Gupta was Union home minister, a committee had been constituted to compare the security cover existing in the United States, UK and Israel. Although nothing much is known about the committee’s work and final recommendations, it was pointed out at the time that whenever the British Prime Minister moved out of Downing Street, only one security car accompanied his vehicle. The British police had succeeded in providing “invisible security” and, in the process, reduced the common man’s suffering.

Pictures of Tony Blair travelling in a London train were published to draw a contrast and by 1996-97, the National Human Rights Commission had received several hundred complaints against VIP security, with examinees claiming they were delayed by half an hour or more; passengers complaining they missed their flights or trains, while others complained of being detained and harassed while on their way to the hospital.

People of Calcutta have stoically put up with the hardship so far and few protests are heard over the inconvenience caused by VIP movements. This, despite their inconvenience being much more than in other metros, which enjoy better road conditions and more road-length.

But with the cost of protecting Indian politicians increasing every year (it was estimated at Rs 561 million in 1997, in addition to Rs 540 million spent on the Special Protection Group), it is time, perhaps, to prompt security agencies to apply different methods in different conditions.

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