(‘Equality of status and opportunity is only in the Preamble to the Constitution which is not a compulsory reading.’)
The framers of the Indian Constitution, though not elected on the basis of universal adult franchise, gave a wonderful document. The Constitution, inter-alia, secures to all its citizens “equality of status and opportunity.”
So, theoretically in democratic India all citizens, rich or poor, rulers or voters, have equal status. However, the ground reality is quite different. The law as well as practice in India ensures a distinction between “VVIPs/VIPs” and “common” citizens. The distinction is demanded by those very people who once in five years go to the people with folded hands chanting “vox populi vox dei”. But once elected, they become VVIPs, different from the “commoners” with fat salary and lots of perquisites at the cost of the “commoners” and expect those commoners to regard them as superior species. Any action or behaviour of a commoner which can be interpreted as, directly or indirectly, demeaning the status of the elected Hon’ble representatives makes the latter so angry that they threaten the functioning of the Constitution itself.
As President of the Constituent Assembly Dr. Rajendra Prasad, who later became the first President of the Republic, had cautioned against such a danger. In his last speech on number 26, 1949, he expressed his apprehension in the following words:
..(the) successful working of democratic institutions requires in those who have to work them willingness to respect the view points of others, capacity for compromise and accommodation. Many things which cannot be written in a Constitution are done by conventions. Whatever the Constitution may or may not provide, the welfare of the country will depend upon the way in which the country is administered. That will depend upon the men who administer it….If the people who are elected are capable and men of character and integrity, they would be able to make the best even of a defective Constitution. If they are lacking in these, the Constitution cannot help the country. After all, a Constitution like a machine is a lifeless thing. It acquires life because of the men who control it and operate it, and India needs today nothing more than a set of honest men who will have the interest of the country before them.”
We have several examples to prove that Dr. Rajendra Prasad’s apprehensions were not unfounded.
Just recall two latest incidents.
On March 23, 2017, Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad, had to fly from Pune to Delhi. Being an Hon’ble MP, he is entitled to fly, with taxpayers’ money, business class. Unfortunately, all planes are not designed to suit the status of the MPs. The plane by which Gaikwadwas to fly was one such. Despite being informed of the limitations of the plane, he boarded the plane but by the end of flight, he had realised that his status had been compromised. For an hour, he refused to de-board and demanded presence of the CMD of Air India to lodge complaint. Since the order could not be complied with, the 60 year old duty manager, the senior most employee of the Air India at the Delhi airport, came to listen to the complaint and request to de-board.
The Hon’ble MP was not ready to be pacified by a junior employee. Shouting at him (the manager), the MP snatched his glasses, pushed him to the ground and hit him with slipper 25 times while he (the manager) was lying on the floor of the plane. Perhaps the Hon’ble MP got tired after giving 25 strokes. Since there is no equality of “status and opportunity”, the duty manager could not return the compliment. To show solidarity with their employees, the Air India management could do only one thing it was capable of: disqualifying the Hon’ble MP from flying until he apologised to the Air India crew. In sympathy, the other airlines also took the same decision, putting the Hon’ble MP to great inconvenience.
Neither the MP nor his party was ready for such an “insult”. The powerful MP thundered: ”I slapped him…Should I hear abuses from everyone. I am from Shiv Sena not BJP. Let him complain to anyone. I will give my complaint to the Lok Sabha Speaker.” The mighty Shiv Sena, well-known for showing muscle to prove the old saying that “Might Is Right”, threatened to paralyse the Lok Sabha. A trailer was presented when on April 7, when a Shiv Sena MP heckled the Civil Aviation Minister who had to be escorted out for his personal safety.Somehow, a face-saving device was found. The Hon’ble MP wrote a small letter to the Civil Aviation Minister “to convey my regrets for the unfortunate incident” and requested revocation of the ban as it was “affecting the effective discharge of my duties and responsibilities.”
The “apology” was accepted and mercifully, the Shiv Sena and its MPs will continue to ‘discharge their duties and responsibilities’ to the nation.
Even before the ‘honourable’ settlement was arrived at, another Hon’ble MP, this time from Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress, no less famous for showing the muscle power, threw tantrum in an Air India plane which was to fly from Kolkata to Delhi. At about 2.25 PM on Friday, April 7, the Rajya Sabha member Hon’ble Dola Sen delayed the flight of the plane by about 40 minutes because the crew had the audacity to request her mother, who had been brought to the plane in a wheelchair, to shift from the allotted seat which was next to the emergency exit in the economy class to another seat, even in the business class.
The Airline’s mistake was to allow her to book that seat which is not considered safe for passengers who are not physically fit. The mistake on the part of the Hon’ble MP was that she had not disclosed the physical condition of her mother. But “might is right”. For good half an hour or so, the Hon’ble MP kept on screaming. Honour of the MP is above everything including safety of the plane. Mercifully, unlike her Shiv Sena colleague in the Lok Sabha, she did not use her slipper or sandal. No member of the crew was physically injured and had to remain content with verbal attack.
In both the cases, formalities of filing FIRs have been completed. Since the Shiv Sena MP has apologised, hopefully the case against him would be dropped. Ultimately, the case against Dola Sen would also be dropped.
Since our Hon’ble elected representatives – 4663 MLAs and MPs – need special privileges for themselves and their family members and friends, all service providers should review their facilities at the earliest. At least all planes must have business class and all friends and relatives of the Hon’ble elected representatives should be automatically upgraded to the business class.
India is India, not America or Britain. Some time back, a relative of mine settled in the USA, during his visit to India, recounted what he had seen in a State capital of in the USA. The car of the Governor of the State jumped the red light but the traffic police ignored it because of the status of the occupant. The news spread like wildfire. The next day most of the cars driven by the common citizens in that city were carrying sticker “I am Governor of the State. I am exempt from traffic rules.” In less than 24 hours, the Governor publicly apologised and paid the requisite fine.
As I said, India is India. A VIP is above laws and rules meant for ordinary mortals. Every elected representative takes oath that he/she “will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India.” The saving grace is that he/she is not required to declare that he/she has read the Constitution and heard Dr. Rajendra Prasad’s last speech in the Constituent Assembly.
In our country, sometimes VIP movement causes death of the commoner stuck in traffic jam. Will Prime Minister Narendra Modi end the ‘VIP culture’? In today’s newspaper I read that yesterday he went to the airport to receive Bangladesh Prime Minister without any security route normally in place for him. He was sitting in his car with driver and SPG commando without special protection people in convoy of vehicles ahead and behind his car. Like any ordinary car, his car also stopped at red lights.
By Devendra Narain at indiaopines blog.
The article was originally published here