Dr Nirala Singh was boarding her Kolkata bound IndiGo flight from Imphal airport on Wednesday when it was abruptly rescheduled and passengers left in the lurch. She was on her way to attend her nephew’s funeral in Patna and had to be on time to catch her connecting flight from Kolkata. She also had to be on time before the body decayed.
However, because of VVIP movement at the airport, she had to miss her connecting flight.
Distressed, an outburst followed when she spotted Union Minister KJ Alphons at the airport, asking him for help with her flight’s take off. However, the minister clarified it was due to the President Ramnath Kovind’s aircraft landing that her flight was delayed and not because of his movement.
There was nothing he could do about it, he said.
Earlier this month, at least 13 flights were diverted out of New Delhi airport due to movement of VVIPs. Two years ago, a delayed Air India flight deboarded three passengers to make way for Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju, accompanied by another minister. In his defence, Rijiju had no prior knowledge of the same, and if he did, he would’ve never boarded the flight. He, like Alphons, was also helpless.
More than 450 people exercise VIP status, awarded by the government in India. But getting the blame off their backs wouldn’t solve this hiccup. Especially when people who exercise this privilege can blame it on ‘protocol’.
Traffic from every direction comes to a standstill so that high-risk individuals can cut across, as is protocol. It doesn’t matter then if someone is breathing their last in an ambulance or missing their dead nephew’s funeral in the same traffic. One must maintain protocol.
Living in the national capital, I had used VVIP movement as an excuse for showing up late to work a number of times. Until the day it actually happened.
Stuck in the same traffic for two hours with me was my running auto meter, a wailing ambulance and hundreds of cars with who knows what urgent work being put on hold. Stuck there because we stand at the bottom of the order of precedence.
Actually, we don’t make it to the list at all. But hey, we elected you!
To be fair, where wouldn’t you find a hierarchal order in place? It exists in religion, at home, in schools and offices. The only difference – your boss is far more approachable than the Prime Minister will ever be. The in-betweens are just as powerless as the rest of us – as became clear in the case of minister KJ Alphons – and yet exercise far more privileges in the existing VIP culture.
Last month, the Railway Ministry brought a 36-year-old protocol to an end. The protocol made it mandatory for general managers to be present during the arrival and departure of the Railway Board chairman and other board members during zonal visits. It was withdrawn with immediate effect from airports and railway stations.
They also ordered that no official would henceforth offer or receive bouquets and gifts at any time. Senior officials were asked to relieve the railway staff engaged as the domestic help at their homes.
The Railway Minister, Piyush Goyal, also asked senior officials to start travelling in sleeper and AC three-tier classes instead of ‘cosy saloons and executive class travel privileges’. If this protocol can end, why not the rest?
The Union Cabinet too banned red beacons on VIP cars this year. Soon after, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that people must also move away from the mindset of VIP culture. That ‘Every Person is Important (EIP)’ must replace ‘Very Important Person (VIP)’.
But how exactly, when this mindset is enabled by the same people who fall prey to it? Hierarchies are culturally ingrained and to stop VIP culture, it needs to be nipped in the bud.
Because all of us have somewhere to be and someone’s privilege shouldn’t come in the way of that.