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Bengal’s red-light elite
- Govt creates two sets of VIPs with beacon hierarchy
Britney Spears at Sunday’s MTV awards show, where she flashed a lot of skin. (AFP)

Calcutta, Sept. 10: The Bengal government today gave some of its VIPs the licence to “flash” — an activity more commonly associated with dare-to-bare stars like Britney Spears and Janet Jackson.

Perhaps it’s a coincidence that Britney did it for this month’s issue of Allure magazine. She posed in jeans and dark-brown wig for the picture, her bare breasts covered by her arms.

What Bengal’s bigwigs will be flashing, though, is their power — symbolised by the read beacon atop their cars. Or the “top front” of their cars, as the government put it, with no reference to the magazine.

A transport department notification has redrawn the rules governing the use of the red beacon in Bengal, bloating the list of the privileged but dividing them into two groups, depending on who can use the “flasher” and who can’t.

“Red light with flasher”, a subheading said, spelling out the 13 categories of VIPs entitled to it: governors, ministers, top judges, Speakers, leaders of Opposition, advocate-generals, Bharat Ratnas….

The “red light without flasher” section has 27 categories, ranging from senior bureaucrats and civic officials to zilla sabhadhipatis.

The notification, dated September 7, was approved by Calcutta High Court today, which gave the green light to the lengthening of the list as well as its division into the two categories.

Britney has her own flasher list. At Sunday’s MTV Video Awards in Palms Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, she was all skin and bounce but unlike the Allure photo, stopped short of “flashing” in a technical sense.

The Indian symbol of official machismo that flashes power and
much more

This was in contrast to pop star Janet Jackson, who was pilloried for baring a breast at a SuperBowl half-time show in February 2004 and then tried to pass it off as “wardrobe malfunction”.

In today’s permissive times, any global list of flashers – men and women with a tendency to expose in public – would also include model Katie Price, heiress Paris Hilton and actress Lindsay Lohan.

Still, in most countries, the permission to use red lights extends only to ambulances and police in emergency.

The high court suggested a way of stopping criminals from outsmarting police by fixing red lights on their cars.

“Certificates will have to be obtained by the dignitaries from the police like it is obtained while using colour film on cars. The vehicle owners will have to keep the certificate fixed on the windscreen,” the two-judge bench said.

It set aside an order by another bench in February that asked the government to follow the rules that allow beacons on the front bumper but not the roof. The state said it had deleted this particular rule after the Centre recently empowered it to draw up its own list of VIPs.

Yet some may argue that on a VIP’s car, the beacon’s only function is to mark out and draw attention. In a time of terror attacks this can work at cross-purposes with the heavyweight’s other status symbol: his security.

Many might also think that VIPs should have more important things to do than “flash”. This is almost exactly what Allure editor-in-chief Linda Wells felt after her encounter with the pop star.

“Britney showed up on time,” Wells said. “She took off her wig and then stripped down to the waist for no apparent reason.”

But when it came to sitting for the interview, Wells said, Britney was much less keen and missed four appointments.

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