By Categories: Editorials, Polity

In a most welcome move, the Union Cabinet has decided to disallow the use of the red beacon on vehicles on India’s roads. Starting May 1, only vehicles on emergency services, such as ambulances, fire trucks and police cars, will be permitted the use of a beacon — from now, a blue-coloured one.

So-called dignitaries will no longer have the privilege of announcing their exalted status on the road by sporting beacons on their passenger vehicles. For this, the Central Motor Vehicles Rules of 1989 are to be amended, so that the Central and State governments lose the power to nominate categories of persons for the red-beacon distinction.

As a symbol of an assault on India’s over-reaching VIP culture, this is a good beginning. The flashing red beacon has become so closely associated with unchecked official power that in popular culture it is often all that is depicted to establish a character’s place in the hierarchy.

In fact, it is seen to be such a symbol of arrival in the country’s power structure that at a workshop for first-time MPs in 2009, one of the main demands made was that cars with red beacons be allotted to them. Such demands have also made its very denial a low-hanging fruit for regimes seeking to establish their street cred as men and women of the people. For instance, over the last three years, governments in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, each of a different political hue, have limited the use of the red beacon.

But to meaningfully begin to dismantle India’s VIP culture, doing away with status symbols such as red beacons is not enough.

For one, this accessory is just one category among privileges that maintain a colonial-era overhang on the country’s democracy, by publicly enforcing a subject-ruler separation. From pat-downs avoided at the security gate at an airport to a freer pass at the toll-gate on a highway, there are numerous ways in which the culture of entitlement is asserted.

Such visible reminders of a feudal separation apart, the power of official proximity is experienced by citizens most intimately while accessing government services — from getting a bed at a state hospital, or a seat for one’s child in school, to cutting the waiting time for, say, a passport or an Aadhaar identity proof.

To be, or to know, ‘somebody’ is far too often perceived as a requisite to getting one’s rightful due in a political economy of shortages, sloth and rent-seeking. To refresh Indian democracy, the state needs to stop protecting MPs who coast along on “don’t you know who I am” bullying. But yet more importantly, it must also reform procedures and the work culture to provide a level playing field to citizens to get what is theirs by right.

Take-away from the editorial-

  1. Few critical words such as-
    1. subject-ruler separation
    2. colonial hangover
    3. culture of entitlement
    4. feudal separation
  2. A Powerful statement-
    1. To be, or to know, ‘somebody’ is far too often perceived as a requisite to getting one’s rightful due in a political economy of shortages, sloth and rent-seeking.
  3. Internalize these words and sentences so as to use them appropriately.In exam one barely has 7-8 mins to answer a question, and it essentially acts as a constraint on writing good statements/critical words unless one has internalized it.
  4. It has been our core value that in order to write effective and good answer one need to inculcate good reading habits, but only reading will not help if the critical aspects/words are not internalized and reproduced in the exam in real time. To meet the quality standards of UPSC it is a must.


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