A new beaconless polity


The rampant use of red beacons on so-called VPI cars created a deep schism between rulers and the ruled, but with the new Motor Vehicles Rules, this has been thankfully done away with



Geeta Singh has spent 20 years covering cinema, music and society, giving new dimensions to feature writing. She has to her credit the editorship of a film magazine. She is also engaged in exploring the socio-economic diversity of Indian politics. She is the co-founder of Parliamentarian.

The Narendra Modi cabinet has taken a historic decision to end the VIP culture in the country. On Wednesday, April 19, 2017, the Union Cabinet decided to amend the Motor Vehicle Rules to end the use of red or any coloured beacon by all, including the President, Vice President and the Prime Minister. The government is of the considered opinion that beacons on vehicles are perceived symbols of VIP Culture, and have no place in a democratic country.

“Every Indian is special. Every Indian is a VIP,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted soon after. The Modi cabinet has said that excepting emergency services in the country from May 1, no one will be able to use any carpeted vehicles. Vehicles involved in emergency and relief-and-rescue services, ambulances and fire services, will, however, be allowed to use the blue beacon.

The point to be noted is that the government has taken forward a Supreme Court ruling of December 2013. The apex court had sought to restrict the use of red beacons even with an amendment in the relevant law. A bench of Justices GS Singhvi and C Nagappan directed states to amend the Motor Vehicle Rules to restrict the use of the red beacon, and impose an exemplary fine on those who misuse it.

While hearing the petition on VIP culture, the bench observed, “One of the issues highlighted in the note was that if the instinct of power is concentrated in few individuals, then naked greed for power will destroy the basis of democratic principles. But, what we have done in the last four decades would shock the most established political systems. The best example of this is the use of symbols of authority including the red lights on the vehicles of public representatives from the lowest to the highest and civil servants of various cadres. The red lights symbolise power and a stark differentiation between those who are allowed to use it and the ones who are not”.

However, Modi has also advocated the elimination of VIP culture from the country on many issues and to set an strict example he had recently stepped down from VVIP culture and travelled from Lok Kalyan Marg to Delhi airport in general traffic last month to greet Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Therefore this is certainly a historic decision of the central government in favour of democratic values.

The Laal Batti car became a symbol of ‘VIP culture’ in our country. Though a system may be democratic and egalitarian in nature yet some of the top positions are given special rights to specific facilities. And it is never considered erroneous. But since the 70s, the trend of VIP culture in our country started increasing dramatically, in many cases, and to get beacon-topped cars, politicians and their relatives started taking advantage of power by changing the rules. Obviously, such incidences kick started misuse of power. It also happened that many people who were not authorised for it also started showing tashan (attitude of superiority) with laal batti. The red beacon car became a means to reflect a special attitude, VIP culture and access to the corridors of power, believing it to be highly specific and above the ordinary people. With the red light becoming a symbol of all these things, it would not be wrong to say that this system became a symbol of the gap between the system and the people.

Heavy expenditure on the safety of the people who come in the ‘special’ category and the absence of worthlessness is also the issue on which the government should take a firm initiative. The Supreme Court has repeatedly made strong comments on this matter. On the one hand, thousands of posts for security personnel are empty in many states and on the other, a substantial part of the available police force is pressed into VIP service. It has a bad effect on the general law and order situation. It should be expected that the government will also pay attention to this aspect.

Now after the central government’s decision, not only the senior officers and ministers from May 1, the Prime Minister, the President and the Chief Justice will also not use Laal Batti.

But on the political initiative, prior to Modi Cabinet’s recommendation, the Chief Ministers of Uttar Pradesh and Punjab Yogi Adityanath and Capt Amarinder Singh had already issued orders not to impose red beacon on any government vehicle in the state. Soon after the announcement by the Union Cabinet, Chief Ministers of several states announced the removal of beacons from their cars. These included Chief Ministers of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand to name a few. Several other states too followed suit. It was an attempt at redemption so to say. Chief Minister Raman Singh of Chhattisgarh was a trendsetter; he has been travelling without a red beacon for the past eight years. Some others like the CMs of Tripura and Delhi have not been using red beacons earlier too.

The political message of this decision, being implemented from May Day, is clear, that the government wants to look far away from the VIP culture, and close to the common people. This decision will start a new era of politics.


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