VIP culture and end to 36-year-old protocol in Railways

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“Following the light of the sun, we left the Old World.”

-Christopher Columbus

A lot of excitement and buzz was created when the Union Cabinet a few months back had decided to make changes in the Motor Vehicle Act of 1989 and do away with all types of beacon lights on VIP cars all over the country. This no doubt was a welcome step in the right direction in the agenda to chuck out VIP culture from the country and the Union government was complimented for that by all. Immediately after the Cabinet decision on removal of VIP beacons, two opposing scenarios had emerged – (a) a virtual race among some VIPs to publicly remove the beacon, (b) rumblings among some of these so called VIPs, including those from Modi’s own party BJP who did not want to pay heed.  Though Union Cabinet under Prime Minister Narendra Modi had taken the right step, yet it is now a matter of debate whether the decision has already been implemented in letter and spirit or has remained limited just as a token. People expected that far-reaching impact of such decisions would be seen in every corner of the country, they proved to be wrong. Just removing the beacon on the car is not good enough if we really want to inculcate a sense of equality among all citizens of the country by abolishing the VIP culture. It is true that the days of ‘Lal Batti’ are finished. Yet, the old culture has not vanished as often commoners are made to wait on the road to allow the fleet of cars of VIPs heralded by wail of sirens to whiz by.

Now, in a bid to end VIP culture in Indian railway, the ministry has asked its senior staff to slug it out at home and at work. With this the ministry has brought to an end a 36-year-old protocol where it was mandatory for general managers to be present on arrival and departure of the Railway Board chairman and other board members during zonal visits. Instructions under a 1981 circular that mandated such a protocol has been withdrawn with immediate effect, the Railways Ministry’s September 28 order said. The order further states, all senior officials of the ministry have to relieve the junior staffs who’re working as domestic helps at their homes. It is reported that around 30,000 trackmen are engaged as domestic help in the households of senior officials. Railway Minister Piyush Goyal has even instructed senior officials to refrain from travelling in executive class compartments, and rather travel in sleeper and AC 3-tier classes so that they can “mingle with other passengers”. In countries like Norway, Sweden and New Zealand, some ministers use public transport to go to office or to attend official function. In Norway, even the prime minister reportedly travels in metro. Goyel’s Indian railway now strives to reach this level of equality among citizens.

It is easier to drop red beacon and this 36-year-old protocol but the government may not find it easy to stop certain practices – sirens and road blocks, excessive security etc. — associated with the VIP culture, which is certainly not going to disappear overnight and neither is the mind-set going to change in a hurry. Need of the hour is bring a change in the mind set to get out of the VIP syndrome. Otherwise, ordinary people will never be “equal” with these VIPs.



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