There Is No Such Thing As A VIP

Veeresh Malik

Apr 01, 2015, 12:30 PM | Updated Feb 11, 2016, 08:57 AM IST

Response to my RTI application revealed this ‘secret’.

For about a month, there has been much ado all over the electronic media, and rightly so, about the way VIPs and VVIPs are clogging up our lives. The lal batti (red beacon) culture is something every new government and figureheads therein promise to do away with, but never get around to doing so. They just get more innovative every time.

Historically, red beacons were first installed outside whorehouses and other red light areas during the First World War to designate off-limit areas for soldiers. By contrast, others, including local civilian government officials could and did utilise the services of the red beacon establishments. As special favours, they also helped senior uniformed people who wanted to visit these ‘fine’ establishments. Thus was born the hierarchy of the red beacon. They can still be found in the historical cage and red light areas of cities like Amsterdam and Hamburg, for example.

It was just a matter of time before these beacons started getting used by emergency and rescue vehicles as symbols of power. They demanded the right of passage. The die was well and truly cast and, subsequently, the earliest sighting of red beacons on motor vehicles, which were not emergency vehicles, were reported on armed forces vehicles belonging to senior staff in the Far East, again to establish priority in the right of way. This was rapidly adopted by our former colonial rulers and then our royalty, after which it was codified in the Motor Vehicles Act.

Initially, the red beacon and siren on the roof was meant only for emergency and rescue vehicles, while rulers and royalty had to be content with a small 6W frosted lamp mounted on the bonnet—red for government and purple for royalty. Slowly but steadily, the red and purple beacons found themselves competing with blue (police), amber (airports and other service) and often combinations thereof, while the frosted lamp itself disappeared, and the rotting beacon moved on to bright strobe lamps.

If you wanted to misuse authority, you got a red beacon, even more essential after toll booths started collecting money.

I have always reacted badly to misuse of authority, which is also why I did not last long in uniform, which is where authority tends to be misused the most, regardless of what anybody may have to say about discipline and tradition. It was, therefore, natural that once the uniform was hung up, the attitude towards misuse of authority became even stronger, and I took this out in many ways.

If a car with a siren and beacon hooted behind me at a traffic light, I would kill the engine by pulling the “chor switch” hidden under the glove box, and then step out to open the bonnet. If a convoy overtook me, I would let them do so and then overtake them right back, preferably in as dangerous a fashion as possible. Now and then I also got into trouble, but always managed to slip out of it too, mainly because unless it really was an emergency or rescue vehicle, the people with red beacons on their vehicles never really wanted to risk possible long escalations.

As for their flunkies, they were different, and they were dangerous too. Not averse to pulling guns out. So I wrote harsh articles about flunkies with guns hanging out of open car windows. Around that time, some idiots dropped their guns outside their cars, so that was the end of that. Plus, with air-conditioning, they started keeping their guns inside. Maybe to prevent their wards from escaping!

But how weak and tenuous the whole red beacon thing really was is something I learnt using a keyboard. And the Right to Information Act was designed for this sort of a thing—taking the number of a vehicle with a red beacon down, adding a time and a place, and shooting off an RTI application demanding to know not just the provenance of the vehicle, but also copies of the log book therein.

Another set of adventures with the whole VIP/ VVIP/ red beacon culture was a series of RTI applications, top down, demanding to know the proper formal definition of “VIP/ VVIP”, as well as the Acts or rules or whatever, under which these VIPs/ VVIPs had red beacons for themselves. This was all the more interesting, because I had also dug out some facts on expenses that were allocated and spent on behalf of the VIPs/ VVIPs. This, if you know governance, cannot be done without a proper definition.

I finally got a response to these queries in a huge sealed envelope, marked “SECRET”. The secret answer was that there was no formal definition for VIP/ VVIP! This holds good even today, by the way!

Veeresh Malik is an Ordinary Citizen of India who has done many different things involving the JDS and will now start taking the mickey out of the JDS of India, no holds are barred, no benches are not scorned.

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