BJP is notorious for its huge obsession with VIP culture in Madhya Pradesh. Last year, when Bhopal mayor Alok Sharma participated in a bicycle rally to mark world environment day, he would not dream of parting with his precious Lal Batti. He placed the red beacon on his cycle. “The red beacon,” said the BJP leader, “indicates mayoral position and authority.”Earlier, BJP’s Rustam Singh had made a style statement by mounting a red beacon on his motor bike. These may be extreme cases of people suffering from fatal attraction for trappings of power. But there are politicians who would do anything, but anything, to acquire a Lal Batti.
When Leader of Opposition Ajay Singh moved a resolution in MP Assembly last month proposing scrapping of red beacons, BJP leaders openly mocked him. Singh had announced in the assembly that he had returned his red beacon to the government as it represented “feudalism”. Welcoming Punjab Chief Minister Amrinder Singh’s decision to ban red beacons, he wanted MP Government to follow suit. Minister of State for Cooperative Vishwas Sarang publicly ridiculed him. He called Punjab Government’s move “cheap publicity”.
The “cheap publicity gimmick”, however, became “principle of true democracy” after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced this week a ban on red beacons. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who had silently watched his ministers mock the demand for scrapping of red beacons, discovered enlightenment, “Lal Batti is a reflection of vanity.” This led to a mad scramble among his ministers for removing red beacons. Soon the event turned into a photo op for netas. As they say, politics is the art of possible.
Not everyone is impressed. RCVP Noronha used to drive his moped to state secretariat when he was MP’s chief secretary. Of course, it did not have a red beacon. When Nirmala Buch became the chief secretary of MP, she unmounted the red beacon from her official car. She also ordered her officers to do the same. “It should be used only in emergency vehicles,” she says. Once she was out, the culture came back.
Ajay Singh had removed red beacon from his official vehicle earlier too when he became a minister in Digvijaya Singh government in the 90s. In neighbouring Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh has been travelling without a red beacon for the past eight years. The AAP Government in Delhi had decided in 2015 that none of its ministers would use red beacons. Recently Punjab CM Amrinder Singh banned red beacons.
Yogi Adityanath seems to be setting the agenda within BJP now. On March 20 his first cabinet decided to ban red lights, with a proviso that the ministers could use it only for official journeys, not for personal work.
True, removing the beacons atop their vehicles would rob the VIPs of a visible symbol, but on the whole it would not make much difference to the status of ministers and real VIPs. Surrounded by armies of black, white and grey commandos, they will continue to be VIPs.
However, there is a whole lot of politicians and officers, who used to sport red and yellow beacons although they were not on the list prescribed by transport department. The ban will mostly affect them.
Banning the beacons may be a beginning. But it is certainly not a solution to VIP culture. Union Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari says that the decision was taken because common man feels bad when his vehicle is blocked for passage of VIP vehicles with red beacons. What happens next time he visits Bhopal? Traffic would not be stopped for his cavalcade?
Security is one of the few trappings of power that our VIPs enjoy. The list is quite long, all at the cost of common man. They enjoy separate boarding at airports. Cars come to tarmac to receive them. There are VIP lounges at airports and railway stations. Delaying trains and planes for late coming VIPs is almost the norm. So is stopping trains at stations which do not have scheduled stoppages. Even for appointment with gods and goddesses the VIPs do not like to stand in queues in temples.
Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti was an ardent supporter of Lal Batti culture. She believed that using red beacons, stopping traffic and even delaying a flight was acceptable if a minister was travelling on official duty. Her rationale was that if a minister failed to attend a meeting, a project might get delayed and cost state exchequer crores!
The VIP culture has overtaken us to such an extent that we were fast running out of colours. During Digvijay Singh’s regime MLAs had demanded that they should be allowed to use beacons on their vehicles. His Home Minister Harbansh Singh came up with a solution: a new colour, Green, for MLAs!
The real problem is that in public life there are few persons like Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar who would stand in a queue in a marriage buffet, patiently waiting for his turn. Lal Batti or no Lal Batti, it scarcely makes a difference to such men! We need more leaders like him.
(The writer is a senior journalist. Tweets @nksexpress.)