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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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RUINED BY PETTY PASSIONS

Harish Salve, a senior advocate, has written to the Commissioner of Police, Delhi, to complain about the blocking of traffic in the capital whenever a VIP travels from one place to another. This is a malignant and fast-spreading cancer in this otherwise splendid city. Just because the prime minister or some such ‘very important person’ — whatever that weird phrase means — has to go to a funeral, or to the airport, or to visit a friend, we citizens get trapped in traffic snarls. We remain an undemocratic republic, run by elected representatives who behave much worse than petty potentates.

When Manmohan Singh became prime minister, he allegedly said that he would function differently to set a new and more egalitarian precedent for the future. But he did not compel the pruning of the trappings, seems to enjoy the pomp and the special status, and, in fact, the roads are clogged regularly as his colleagues too follow their leader. In sharp contrast, Sonia Gandhi and her family conduct themselves with quiet dignity, and avoid flashing lights and sirens when they traverse the streets of Delhi. They need the security far more than others, since two members of that family were victims of brutal assaults — Indira Gandhi was shot dead by her bodyguard and Rajiv Gandhi was blown up by a human bomb. Why this crass, ham-handed approach to the movement of VIPs in a modern, emerging nation state?

VIPs have ceased to be celebrated in India. Although there are some exceptions, the citizens of this country are repulsed by the arrogance and self-importance these men and women exude in general. They break all civic rules and norms as they noisily bluster through queues and grab seats on aircrafts, have their minions pull rank on their behalf, misuse their privilege, all of which have come together as a VIP ‘culture’, which is most unsavoury and insulting to the good sensibilities that are the hallmark of this special civilization. The VIPs demean us all with their bad manners.

Banana republic

Their behaviour in the sanctum of Parliament has shamed India. Their lack of propriety has diminished India. Their neglect of all essential services has destroyed India and its civil society. Bereft of ideas and greedy for power, political parties have lowered the bar and reduced us to almost a banana republic. Why would a dignified and sensible government succumb to the pressure exerted by a ranting and raving Opposition that demands the government roll back on executive decisions?

The Centre must take executive decisions. If the states do not want to implement all or some of those policies, it is their call. If foreign direct investment in retail flops because no state government wants to implement it, so be it. Let it fail in the correct way. Why allow anarchy to dictate decisions, and therefore governance? To set the wrong precedent by allowing executive decisions to come under the purview of a vote in Parliament is dangerous for a liberal democracy. Such policy decisions have to remain with an elected executive.

Why is the United Progressive Alliance II allowing itself to be bullied and damaged? Being at the tail end of its term, the government should assert the correct modus operandi regardless of consequences, even if it means an early poll next year. Showing itself as weak and confused does not augur well for the UPA, and emphatically discredits the leading partner, the Congress party. Small wonder that Rahul Gandhi has avoided joining government. Given the condition the government finds itself in today, it would be suicidal for any new entrant to carry a severely corroded baton. It would be far more astute to start from scratch without carrying the baggage of an incumbent.