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Saturday, November 8, 2003

International athletes waved goodbye to Sheroo in an impressive event, but the real chunk of Hyderabadi sports-lovers was not even there.  Only around 2000 tickets were sold to the enthusiastic public for the Afro-Asian Games’ (AAG) closing ceremony on November 1, even though the GMC Balayogi stadium can seat around 30,000.  The VIPs and their dear ones filled up almost the entire venue.  Even more shameful is that some people with valid tickets (costing 500 rupees, each!) were denied entry to the grand show staged at great public expense. Similarly, for the opening ceremony, only 4000 tickets were offered to the public by sale, and 26000 passes went to families and cronies of politicians and officials. This is a disgraceful spectacle of paying public being denied the opportunity to watch a public event, even as free loaders and parasites on the system make merry at taxpayers’ expense!

We have grown used to VIPs delaying public meetings, grabbing flight and train seats, violating traffic laws and getting their way, in any way. Even the temples have not been spared of this all pervading VIP culture. The sycophants could be a bigger headache than the VIPs themselves.  For the marriage of Laloo Yadav’s daughter last year, the followers of the RJD neta invaded showrooms and retail shops and looted cars and furniture at will.  They were aided, abetted and even protected by the Bihar police!  Such instances only serve to increase the level of disgust and mistrust towards the so-called VIPs.

In more mature democracies, public duties are discharged with humanity and reverence without any pompous display of power.  The general public and high-ranking VIPs are judged equally strictly.  Prior to his re-election in 2002, the Mayor of Washington DC was fined more than 1.25 crore rupees because some volunteers forged a few thousand signatures for a petition supporting him.   His name was even removed from the ballot and he had to contest separately as a write-in candidate.  King Harald V of Norway drives his own car and goes fishing along with the most ordinary among his subjects.  May be our Public servants – elected or appointed – could learn from their colleagues in many European countries who routinely go to work by train or bus and obey the law like any other citizen.

However, the past few years have seen some encouraging changes even in India.  The discretionary ‘VIP quota’ controls over LPG and telephone connections or two-wheeler and car bookings have practically disappeared.  For that matter, we even see fewer cars holding up the traffic in Hyderabad, with their flashing lights and high-pitched sirens. But clearly, we have a long way to go.

Our VIP culture is only symptomatic of a more fundamental governance malady: the increasing disconnect and inequity between the public and the public servants.  The general public views VIPs and their ever-present followers as no better than a bunch of freeloaders.

The least that our netas and babus can do is urgently fulfill their official obligations to restore a degree of public trust.  Unless they justify their positions of (strictly temporary) privilege,  they cannot reverse the growing disaffection towards their entire tribe.  If not, they face a real danger of remaining VIPs, but of a lesser kind: Very Impotent Persons! The legitimacy of the system itself is in serious question.

For a start, the concerned authorities could reimburse every valid ticket holder who was denied entry to the AAG closing ceremony last Saturday. I suggest it as a small step in the right direction.  An honest ‘sorry’ along with the 500 rupees refund would also help.

 

And we, the people, must stand up and discipline our public servants. Humility, integrity and diligence should be respected; not arrogance, privilege and pomp. After all, they live at our expense!