The prime minister has decided to put an end to the use of red beacons atop cars. It was an issue that was agitating a large number of public-spirited persons. Harish Salve, a leading lawyer, had filed a PIL seeking a ban on the use of red beacons. The red beacon had begun to symptomise the unpleasant face of the 'Raj'. It was no less than the imperial British administration creating a divide between them and the lesser mortal—the ‘Indian’.
It had become the proverbial red rag to the bull. The sight of a red beacon vehicle created a feeling of revulsion among the public. The vehicle speeding down congested roads in metropolitan cities with blue beacon police vehicles has become such a common sight. They specialise in jumping red lights much to the chagrin of fellow motorists. If you do not give them a pass, you run the risk of facing the ire of the khaki clad in their cavalcade, who excel in unbecoming gestures, and may even land a danda on your bonnet. After all, is it more important for these VIPs than what you and I would have set out to do? Even if it was, they could have stepped out a few minutes earlier.
I say this with first-hand experience. A convoy of the chief minister or deputy chief minister of Punjab had at least seven vehicles, and yours truly nearly got badgered by them at the Gymkhana Club crossing. My wife faced the same treatment, at the hands of the cavalcade of Mulayam Singh Yadav, at the same crossing.
Would any of these leaders ever earn our respect? Such atrocious behaviour would only alienate them from the public whom they are meant to represent. Did we bargain for these overlords when India gained independence? Have we created another set of rulers to replace the ones that were driven out of the country? When will they ever learn? And, they are supposed to know the pulse of the people.
I hope the prime minister's decision has more deep-rooted consequences and is not taken as mere symbolism. Those who had arrogated upon themselves the arbitrary authority to wear such beacons—alas, not on their heads, but on their vehicles—need to sit and think why this decision was taken. Why is it that the decision had to be imposed on them and not voluntarily taken by themselves? They need to realise that governmental authority should be made more people centric and people friendly, rather than to be thrust upon an unsuspecting populace.
It is time for government functionaries and elected representatives to shelve the notion of being a 'cut above' the common man on the road, and reform their mindset about such obnoxious behaviour which creates a 'we' and 'they' relationship between the public and themselves. The sense of entitlement that they illusion themselves with is totally misplaced and needs to be curbed.
The prime minister has shown the way. He is said to have travelled to the airport to receive the Bangladesh prime minister without having the ‘route’ (as is the normal police usage) cleared in advance. Let us take the cue. Let the gesture not be reduced to mere tokenism. Let us shed the false sense of superiority that we very quickly seem to acquire the moment we become 'somebody'. It is not only the red beacon—the ever-present personal assistant and the ubiquitous cop attached to every VIP have become such abhorrent representations of state oppression that if not shed voluntarily, will soon be stripped by a very vigilant citizenry or the might of the court. Are those who had gotten accustomed to such trappings listening? They need to see the writing on the wall and act accordingly.