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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2708

Costly VIP ‘Insecurity’

Tushar Charan - Syndicate Features

It is now axiomatic to say that a new breed of Maharajas rule democratic India. They are the ones who are more privileged and potent than the old-style Maharajas they have replaced. It is the tribe of ‘Netas’ whose life is considered many times more precious than the life of people who send them to assemblies and parliament and are instrumental in elevating them to their exalted—some might say undeserving-- status.

The new Indian VIP is paranoiac about his or her security because without it he or she risks downgrading of the inflated status of new Maharaja. Flaunting their power and authority is obviously more important for them than serving the people, a concept that seems to have become outdated in ‘shining’ India. The country spends Rs 250 crore annually on the security of the VIPs. That sum may be ‘peanuts’, but it should be looked in the context of an observation by the Delhi High Court when a PIL was brought before it. ‘You (the government) have made a mockery of the threat perception. The common man is dying in the street and old couples are being strangulated for lack of security….’

The powerless ‘aam admi’ may be under increasing threat from both criminals and terrorists but he or she is not expected to question why so much of his money is spent on the security of the new Maharajas, some of whom dreaded as criminals in their constituencies, rather than on improving policing that might give a better assurance of safety. It looks as though it has become a ‘duty’ of the ordinary people to pay for the costly security and even costlier privileges of the expanding tribe of the new Maharajas.

These musings are prompted by the loud protests to Home Ministry’s move to scale down the security cover of a number of politicians because of ‘reduced threat perception’. ‘Behanji’ Mayawati saw it as a ploy to kill her. Mulayam Singh regretted the day he decided to support the Congress. Lalu Prasad Yadav saw it as another humiliating blow by the Congress after the poll reverses his party suffered recently. The BJP was not amused to hear that Murli Manohar Joshi would be guarded by a lesser number of Black Cats. Perhaps, the party saw the move as yet another instance of ‘appeasing’ the minority community.

The matter pushed Parliament into the all too familiar scenes of turmoil. The home ministry is supposed to periodically review the matter of providing security cover to VIPs. The intention of that exercise must be to reduce the number of VIPs on the list for special security cover. But if such a recommendation is or cannot be implemented why undertake it in the first place?

The government had to clarify that no such proposal was being followed. Home Minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram, who has set a fine example when he voluntarily reduced the size of his security cover, denied that there was any review that suggested downgrading of the security cover of the highest grade provided to a number of politicians. So, the ‘affected’ have survived for yet another time the nightmare of sudden assassination attempts on them. They will continue to move around in a caravan of red light flashing cars and men armed with automatic rifles, wearing dark uniforms and bandanas. The Republic of India will remain safe for them even as the ordinary people of the country brace for the next 26/11.

Let me hasten to add that it is not my case, in fact, of any civic minded citizen, that our important leaders deserve no protection. But the ordinary people, the honest taxpayers, have a right to question the way this business of VIP security is handled. The very first question that comes to mind is why do people, the leaders, who claim to thrive on the love and affection of the people see the very same people as posing a threat to their lives? Granted, times have changed and there are some mad people out there who might not be averse to the idea of bumping off an odd politician now and then. Is that why the VIP with security cover maintains a distance from his ‘beloved’ people?

The entry of terrorists has admittedly made the picture more difficult because they come trained to kill all sorts of people, VIPs as well as the ordinary ones. The terrorists do have the VIPs in their hit list. But can it be said that safety of the life of a VIP depends on the number of people guarding him or her? How many armed security personnel are needed to prevent an assassination bid on a politician’s or a VIPs life? The average number of armed guards with a VIP is perhaps 25—some move with nearly 100. Unless it is a Mumbai-style attack, the terrorists who usually target a VIP do not number more than a couple or maybe four or five.

The more common method that the terrorists choose is remote control device, not a frontal attack on the target. The protection of the VIP in such cases can be assured better not by surrounding him with a large posse of armed guards but by using technology to pre-empt the terrorist attack.

The introduction of a ‘caste’ system in providing security cover looks incongruous. There are four levels of security cover for the VIPs—X, Y, Z and Z+. The persons who protect the VIPs are drawn from the local police as well as special or para-military forces like the ‘Black Cat’ commandoes of the NSG, CISF, ITBP and CRPF. It does not look like a good idea to draw personnel from multiple agencies for protecting VIPs, instead of from a single agency.

In Delhi, almost 400 VIPs are entitled to security cover of various categories. Not all of them are politicians. The daughter and son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi who are active politicians also enjoy the privilege for reasons which are understandable, as do many former bureaucrats and ministers. Intelligence agencies appear to subscribe to the view that not more than 100 of VIPs of all types in Delhi—politicians, bureaucrats, officers from the police forces, supreme court and high court judges and ‘religious leaders’--need special security cover.

Given our political milieu the ‘new Maharajas’ list is unlikely to be pruned in the near future. Perhaps the only way to achieve that is to build up public opinion.

- Asian tribune -

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