Flag-bearers of Colonial Legacy: Class-Conscious Netas' VIP Tantrums

Written by: Pathikrit
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The revelations about the Directorate General of Civil Aviation having sent a directive to the private airlines companies in India for making sure to give VIP treatment to MPs when they travel, is another reminiscent of the colonial, imperial class system that not only India inherited but its politico-bureaucratic class nurtured and guarded it for nearly seven decades now. The expose did create some kind of shock waves and the resonance of its ripples could be heard all around with the Civil Aviation Minister thoroughly denying that such an incident did occur, even though facts reveal otherwise.

The deeper issue therefore is not just that of at least a section, if not all, politicians presuming it their birthright to be treated as elite. The malaise is perhaps deeper than that but the most striking aspect of the Indian neta culture is its amazing capability of carrying his outer pretension of following Gandhian frugality with its deep penchant for being treated differently.

The elitist attitude of the ruling class has made the commoners yearn for change

It is not about being treated differently in plane but also as people, Indians are pretty well aware of the kind of first class treatment that is always meted out to even a municipal councillor. More often than not first class compartments in trains are reserved for VIP MPs and there are numerous incidents when some unruly MLA barged into a compartment and proclaimed his legitimate right to do so by virtue of being a legislative member.

It is a different issue when some extremely important Cabinet members or Chief Ministers or the Prime Minister or President are given a different treatment because of real time security issues concerned. But the culture of feeling privileged and demanding privileges have permeated India's ruling class so much that often one can witness sedans or SUVs on the streets of India with giant stickers where it is written "Son of a Former MLA" as the owner, thereby vindicating the yearning to hold on to titles which would some or the other way make people treat him differently.

One should remember the phrase of ‘Cattle Class' by a noted MP to define the service of low cost carriers! When the common man for the purpose of saving his hard earned money feels more than happy to travel in a low cost carrier, why should his representative ask for special treatments? Is not travelling in a decent aircraft with decent facilities on taxpayers' money enough of facilities and privileges? And then when one compares with the kind of services that these elected representatives have given to the nation and to their respective constituencies, one is appalled to see the sheer disconnect between what they demand as privilege and how little they deliver in return.

As a nation we have fallen far behind than many of the Third World countries like China and South Korea which started a similar journey like ours in the aftermath of Second World War. Today perhaps there is no comparison between Indian Railways and Chinese Railways, between Indian cities and South Korean cities. Their representatives have worked for their nations. Ours have not for 60 years.

If there is an enormous amount of yearning for change in the country today and people are sick and tired of populism and hollow sentiments instead of real time development and governance, if today the resonance of a mass demand for a strong leader to lead the nation can be heard, it is primarily because people are tired of those who flaunt their VIP privileges, fight for their VIP privileges while doing nothing in return to deserve those VIP privileges. Further, those who demand VIP treatment while travelling in a train or a plane have always been the first to resist reforms in an Air India or Indian Railways. Such reforms help the common man avail better service, perhaps at the cost of the VIP's sway over it and thus the resistance.

It is not to say there a no good MP or MLA in this country. There are perhaps many because of which the nation is still alive. But perhaps they are still in minority in terms of numbers. Yet it is not just about the elected representatives. India's bureaucracy cannot keep itself immune and not take any blame at all for all the malaise that has plagued India today.

The bureaucratic class have been more than eager to appease the political class for the purpose of their own career advancement. It is well thigh impossible to grow otherwise. And thus on several occasions one could witness the officials going overboard to appease the ‘powers that be' even when it has not been asked for. Appeasing the ‘VIP' MP or MLA is the only way to prevent the axe of suspension or transfer fall on the shoulder.

For long the monopoly of the PSUs made it easier to demand such privileges. It was always a phone call away. But such orders by Babus and Netas and their needless interference led the fall of many PSUs like Air India and the fall has been to such an extent that travelling in state owned carriers is often painful now given their appalling service. Private airlines seem a much better option but with privatisation come loss of such privileged treatment that were fundamental rights during the era of closed economy.

For the ubiquitous babus and class conscious netas, travelling in the ‘Cattle Class' with the common man is perhaps fall in dignity. So what if some of the biggest entrepreneurs of India like the highly respected Azmi Premji travels in economy class? So what if ballooning fiscal deficit demand austerity measures, the privileges of the privileged VIP cannot be compromised with.

He might still grudgingly travel in the ‘Cattle Class' but would still want to be treated as a VIP and nothing below that. And perhaps for such class conscious privileged Netas of India, it is unacceptable and shocking to see a former tea-seller now having emerged as the foremost candidate to be the next Prime Minister of India.

It is time for the slumber in the VIP lounge. The sound proof glass doors made the VIP Neta feel there is silence all around. He failed to hear the shrill cry for change, the shrill cry of rage against this elitism and winds of change all around which is about to sweep India. With privileges comes responsibility. The pretentious neta did not realise it for decades.

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