It’s a hangover of the colonial era when the foreign rulers deliberately kept the ‘natives’at a distance in order to assert the superiority of the ruling class. Unfortunately, this unsavoury tradition of separateness has persisted even after 1947. Perhaps it has been reinforced by the feudal practices which have always been existing. Whatever the reason, this VIP or lal batti (red light) culture, as it has come to be known, has remained an unhealthy feature of the present, supposedly modern times.
The latest example of this egregiousness was the deplaning of three passengers — “a couple and their child” — from an Air India plane in Leh to accommodate the Union minister of state for home, Kiren Rijiju, and the deputy chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Nirmal Singh. The PMO has now intervened, and the civil aviation minister, Ashok Gajapati Raju, has apologised and given the assurance that such incidents will not happen again. The expression of regret and the assurance are in order. But, the question is why the airline allowed the ministers to have their way in the first place. Shouldn’t they have told them that no seats were available and that they will have to wait for a later flight?
If this was not done, the reason evidently is that the carrier, Air India, is regarded by the airlines staff, not to mention the ministers, as government property with no vestige of the supposed autonomy of a public sector undertaking. They could behave, therefore, in a way which would have been out of the question if it was a private sector airline. Only a few days before the incident in Leh, the same attitude of regarding Air India as run by the government and, therefore, amenable to the whims of ministers was seen in Mumbai where a flight to the US was held up because a member of the chief minister, Devendra Fadnavis’s entourage had turned up with the wrong passport and had to get the right one from home.
Raju himself had once boasted that he carries matches with him in a plane — “I am a chain-smoker” he proclaims proudly — because he is not frisked. Although it is a relatively minor offence, the act of carrying flammable substance on board, which is banned, nevertheless underlines the customary VIP disregard for rules.