In­dia The Lal Batti Goes!

In a bid to end VIP cul­ture in In­dia, the Modi govern­ment has pro­hib­ited the use of red bea­con lights. It is a good move but it does not say much for the other atroc­i­ties that Naren­dra Modi and his party are wreak­ing against the mi­nori­ties – or even agai

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By S. M. Hali The writer is a prac­tis­ing jour­nal­ist. He con­trib­utes to the print me­dia, con­ducts a TV show and pro­duces doc­u­men­taries.

A good tra­di­tion set by the In­dian govern­ment.

In a bid to erad­i­cate the VIP cul­ture from In­dia, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi took an un­usual step and ban­ished the use of red bea­cons atop VIP ve­hi­cles. The or­der was im­ple­mented on In­ter­na­tional Labour Day 2017 when the Fi­nance Min­is­ter in­formed the In­dian House of Par­lia­ment of the de­ci­sion of the Prime Min­is­ter.

It is a bold step taken by a govern­ment, which is bent on tak­ing In­dia to un­prece­dented heights. The VIP cul­ture has plagued the sub­con­ti­nent ever since the Bri­tish de­parted, giv­ing free­dom to Pak­istan and In­dia. Govern­ment min­is­ters and mem­bers of the rul­ing class im­me­di­ately started the vul­gar dis­play of their author­ity and po­si­tion by mount­ing red bea­cons on top of their ve­hi­cles so that or­di­nary cit­i­zens and pub­lic trans­port could yield way to the VIPs. Ac­cord­ing to the Cen­tral Mo­tor Ve­hi­cle Rules, 1989, a new law was pro­mul­gated to au­tho­rize VIPs us­ing red bea­cons. Rule 108 of the In­dian Cen­tral Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles Rules 1989 deals with use of red, white and blue lights on ve­hi­cles. Rule 108-1 (III) says the cen­tre and states can spec­ify dig­ni­taries who can use bea­cons on their ve­hi­cles.

Modi in­formed his cabi­net that VIPs will not be al­lowed to flaunt red bea­cons atop their ve­hi­cles from May 1. Al­though the op­po­si­tion party, the In­dian Congress, termed this as mere "sym­bolic pol­i­tics," the un­usual de­ci­sion has been hailed by the In­dian pub­lic. In pur­suance to the de­ci­sion, sev­eral min­is­ters and chief min­is­ters of states re­moved the red bea­cons from their ve­hi­cles and tweeted the ac­tion along with pic­tures of their ve­hi­cles sans the red bea­cons.

As an ex­cep­tion, ve­hi­cles in­volved in emer­gency and relief and res­cue ser­vices, am­bu­lances and fire ser­vices will, how­ever, be al­lowed to use blue bea­cons. Hence­forth no dig­ni­tary at the cen­tre or in the states would use bea­cons

on their ve­hi­cles. Even the Pres­i­dent and Prime Min­is­ter will not be ex­empted from fol­low­ing the new rule.

In­dia, which claims to be the largest democ­racy in the world, is at times taunted for not fol­low­ing demo­cratic prin­ci­ples in let­ter and spirit. How­ever, this de­ci­sion in­tends to strengthen demo­cratic val­ues in the coun­try.

The masses of both In­dia and Pak­istan are irked by the VIP cul­ture pre­vail­ing in their re­spec­tive coun­tries. When­ever VIPs move, flaunt­ing the red bea­cons atop their ve­hi­cles the ac­com­pa­ny­ing en­tourage of se­cu­rity ve­hi­cles blocks traf­fic, some­times for hours, dis­rupt­ing the rou­tine of or­di­nary cit­i­zens. There have been in­stances where pa­tients on the way to hos­pi­tals have ex­pired be­cause of the de­lays caused by VIP move­ment. Nor­mal life comes to a halt as the state ma­chin­ery, in­clud­ing the po­lice and law en­forc­ing agen­cies, take to as­sist­ing the move of the VIP on the roads.

Naren­dra Modi may be ac­cused of many fail­ures but he can­not be ques­tioned on try­ing to make In­dian so­ci­ety more demo­cratic-minded. Al­though his po­lit­i­cal ri­val in the Delhi govern­ment, the Aam Aadmi Party, was cre­ated to re­new equality among the masses, it is Modi who has taken the lead in estab­lish­ing the power of the masses.

Within a few hours of the his­toric de­ci­sion, "#Every­oneVIPinNewIn­dia" be­came the top trend on Twit­ter. Wel­com­ing the de­ci­sion, the Chief Min­is­ter of Rajasthan Va­sund­hara Raje in a tweet said: "Cur­tail­ing the use of #RedBea­con is a wel­come and for­ward look­ing step to­wards hav­ing more peo­ple-friendly Govern­ment #Every­oneVIPinNewIn­dia."

Min­is­ter of Tex­tile Sm­riti Irani tweeted her of­fi­cial car's picture af­ter re­mov­ing the red bea­con and said, "Re­moved 'Lal Batti' from my car. PM @ naren­dramodi ji's de­ci­sion is a wel­come step to­wards reaf­firm­ing our be­lief in #Every­oneVIPinNewIn­dia." Min­is­ter of State for Sports and Youth Af­fairs Vi­jay Goel and Min­is­ter of State in Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice, posted videos of their cars with­out bea­cons. In Ma­ha­rash­tra, Chief Min­is­ter Deven­dra Fad­navis said he has stopped us­ing the red bea­con with im­me­di­ate ef­fect.

These were some of the re­ac­tions from the VIPs them­selves but the re­sponse of the In­dian masses was equally pos­i­tive, who wel­comed the de­ci­sion. While Modi is tak­ing the step of elim­i­nat­ing VIP cul­ture, there is much more he can do if he wants to be re­mem­bered in pos­ter­ity as one of In­dia’s most demo­cratic lead­ers. He needs to rein in the ex­trem­ists in In­dian so­ci­ety, who have made life mis­er­able for the mi­nori­ties com­pris­ing the Mus­lims, Sikhs, Chris­tians, Par­sis and the low caste Hin­dus — the Dalit. Ever since Naren­dra Modi’s Bharatyia Janta Party ( BJP) came to power, Hin­dutva ex­trem­ists have been given a free hand to tar­get the mi­nori­ties. Mus­lims in In­dian Oc­cu­pied Kash­mir (IOK) are be­ing reg­u­larly tar­geted with op­pres­sion, which in­cludes killing, rap­ing and in­car­cer­at­ing the hap­less Kash­miris. On July 8, 2016, pop­u­lar Kash­miri youth leader Burhan Wani was tar­geted and killed by In­dian law en­forc­ing agen­cies in IOK. When un­armed youth came out to protest the wan­ton slaugh­ter, they were de­lib­er­ately tar­geted by In­dian po­lice and army with pel­let guns. The pel­let guns have re­sulted in the death of hun­dred of youth and blind­ing of thou­sands of Kash­miri boys. Even in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions have taken no­tice of this reign of ter­ror pre­vail­ing in IOK but Modi’s govern­ment has shown no let up in its per­se­cu­tion of the Kash­miris who only de­mand their just right of a plebiscite to de­ter­mine their fate as promised by the UN.

Mi­nori­ties in the rest of In­dia have not been safe ei­ther. Churches have been burnt, mosques and gur­duwaras de­stroyed while mi­nor­ity Mus­lims, Chris­tians, Sikh and Dalit have been mas­sa­cred.

Cows are con­sid­ered sa­cred in the Hindu re­li­gion but un­der the BJP rule, this ex­trem­ism has been over­stretched. Mus­lims slaugh­ter­ing cows or even sell­ing them have been lynched and killed in the name of re­li­gion. The wave of ex­trem­ism has so dis­turbed even the fair-minded Hindu in­tel­lec­tu­als that a large num­ber of them have re­turned their na­tional awards to the gov­ern­ments in protest. Some of them are oc­to­ge­nar­i­ans and had par­tic­i­pated in the free­dom strug­gle. They are so dis­gusted by the harsh treat­ment meted out to the mi­nori­ties that they have de­manded a crack­down on the ortho­dox Hindu Brah­mins who at­tack and kill mi­nori­ties with re­li­gious fer­vour and also en­joy the pa­tron­age of the state.

In­ter­na­tional aca­demics and lit­ter­a­teurs like Noam Chom­sky have also taken cog­nizance of the rot that has set in and an ap­pli­ca­tion signed by over a thou­sand in­ter­na­tional writ­ers, thinkers and teach­ers has been sub­mit­ted to Naren­dra Modi to take con­crete steps to stem the rot but it has fallen on deaf ears.

An­other mal­ady af­flict­ing the In­dian masses is the ad­vent of rape. Young girls in New Delhi and else­where are un­safe as they are at­tacked and raped on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. Mo­ral de­prav­ity has reached an ex­tent that two sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian Chris­tian nuns were raped and killed.

Or­di­nary In­di­ans may re­joice at the ban on the use of flash­ing red bea­cons, an of­fen­sive sym­bol of the su­pe­ri­or­ity of the rul­ing class, but in ef­fect they should be de­mand­ing the erad­i­ca­tion of re­li­gious ex­trem­ism from In­dia. A coun­try which as­sas­si­nated its own found­ing fa­ther Ma­hatma Gandhi, only be­cause he wanted an end to the mass mas­sacre of Mus­lims de­part­ing from In­dia for the promised land of Pak­istan, ought to do bet­ter than that. Ma­hatma Gandhi was a cham­pion of the down­trod­den and preached equality for all cit­i­zens; he shunned vi­o­lence and ex­trem­ism, yet he met a vi­o­lent end at the hands of Nathu­ram Godse, an ar­dent mem­ber of the Hindu ex­trem­ist group the Rashtriya Swayam­se­vak Sangh (RSS). It is equally de­plorable that Naren­dra Modi con­tin­ues to be an ac­tive mem­ber of the RSS and de­spite be­ing elected as the Prime Min­is­ter of In­dia, fol­lows the dik­tat of the RSS chief.

The devil is in the de­tails. Dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign of 2014, Modi had reached out to his par­ent Sangh Pari­var for sup­port in the gen­eral elec­tions. Af­ter Modi’s pyrrhic vic­tory, the Sangh Pari­var de­manded its pound of flesh: high po­si­tions for mem­bers of the RSS and a free hand to em­brace ex­trem­ism and crack down on the In­dian mi­nori­ties. Modi had no op­tion but to re­lent. The rest is his­tory. Joy Hind!

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