Jubilation over removal of red VIP beacon shows our low expectations from government

There's another reason why it’s amusing to see many in the press hyperventilate and heap praise over such an inconsequential cabinet decision.

 |  4-minute read |   20-04-2017
  • ---
    Total Shares

Quite expectedly, the government’s decision to remove red beacons atop vehicles of dignitaries and senior officials has met with joy and applause from many quarters. The “masses” seem to have welcomed it, the Opposition has bowed to its wisdom and the media also has largely been positive towards the move. In politics, morality is a virtue and no one understands it better than this government.

On the surface, it seems a smart political move for two reasons. One, it changes perception and suggests that those in power are no different from the ones they set out to govern. Two, it sends a powerful message - that the government is here to serve you and not the other way around - which is how it should be.

It’s to BJP’s credit that they went ahead with it because one didn’t really think we would see this change this soon. The thought of “power and influence” is so deeply entrenched with that of a beaming red light that it’s hard to imagine otherwise.

The red beacon symbolised authority. It epitomised clout. It demanded deference. In the good old days, only two things defined success: a job in the US or a government ambassador with a red beacon.

But beyond good optics, what does it really mean for the common man on the streets? Does it really convert him into a “VIP” as the Prime Minister has called out? Does it change the relationship between the government and the citizens? Will it really change the VIP culture prevalent in Delhi and state capitals?

The honest answer to that is “No”.

Citizens will have to deal with the government the same way as earlier, regardless of the absence of red beacons. We still have to go through the same tedious government processes, be witness to the same government inefficiencies and unwillingly behave submissively to many government diktats. How does any Indian feel “very important” in such a setup?

To truly embolden and treat each citizen as a “VIP”, our governments should be focused on delivering its core functions: providing solid infrastructure (roads, housing, public transport), preserving a meaningful ecosystem for private individuals to thrive on and building a justice system based on fairness and equity (apart from national security and foreign policy) - all of which are the bare minimum that we expect from those in power.


And because that is unlikely to happen, our expectations from the government remain so low that any reform (such as giving up of red beacons) looks promising and well intentioned.

Daniel Hannan, the leading British political commentator and politician, once remarked that we live in an era of “virtual government”. Governments come and go but it is always ultra difficult for them to cater to the most urgent demands.

The bureaucracy never really gives up its share of power, taxes always tend to increase and corrupt practices never seem to go away. Instead of the state being accountable to us for its actions, we have to keep up with its byzantine rules and regulations. It’s hard to see how any individuals feel “special” and “empowered” in such circumstances.

Ironically, India has been doing exceedingly well economically in comparison to other countries, but unfortunately it’s the Indian State that has struggled to adapt. It’s comical but tragic that our governance structure has remained practically the same over the last 25 years.

That’s another reason why it’s amusing to see many in the press hyperventilate and heap praise over such an inconsequential cabinet decision. The government doesn’t derive its power and authority from red beacons but from the current set of rules and regulations. Unless those are substantially changed, it’s foolish and naïve to expect the government will shed its control over our lives.

Therefore, cosmetic changes such as removal of red coloured beacons atop vehicles will only do as much to win public confidence. To really make a dent to the VIP culture and empower common citizens, the government will have to do more. Otherwise, this change will mean nothing but mere tokenism and virtue signalling.

Also read: How Arnab Goswami went from #EndVVIPRacism to VIP journalist


Arihant Panagariya Arihant Panagariya @arihantp

The writer is a lawyer working in the field of public policy in Mumbai.

Like DailyO Facebook page to know what's trending.