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23rd March '2008
Inconvenient “Popular” Leaders
(Protecting individuals at the cost of general public!)

In the entire sub-continent we often use the term “Popular” leaders to describe politicians who are supposed to be beloved of the common masses. It is used quite frequently to describe politicians of all hues and shades by the media, as well as by the common people themselves. However, over last few decades the leaders seem to have become so popular that they have to be protected from the very people whom they are supposed to represent. This protection has gone rather a bit too far and the very presence of these leaders causes great inconvenience to the common people. Leaders instead of being really “Popular” have rather become “Inconvenient” for the general masses. In earlier times the leaders were always one with the masses. They would mingle freely and people could approach them any where. Mahatma Gandhi led long marches and was always among common people. Both Jawahar Lal Nehru and Mohammad Ali Jinnah moved with the masses. There was hardly any requirement of security and protection which we are seeing today. Even in Kashmir Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the tallest Kashmiri leader of the modern times was one with the people. He was easily accessible whether in power or out of power. The present brand of so called “Popular” leaders is totally insulated from the common masses. There is a total security phobia and scare about their well being. Everything is being followed strictly as per the “Blue” book. Peoples’ leaders seem to have become too distant from them. They have rather become a great inconvenience in day to day life! This is true all over the sub-continent. All leaders are categorised in terms of threat perception and equivalent security is provided, the maximum being Z-Plus. The security set up is so elaborate and extensive that one really gets annoyed and inconvenienced. The most maddening is the VVIP security given to the democratic rulers. Firstly, their residences are like forts. Surrounded by high walls topped with rolls of barbed wire, sometimes electrified. The walls are dotted with pill boxes where soldiers stand on twenty four hour guard with machine guns. Entrances to these residences are through drop gates and numerous check points with metal detectors. Security checks, body-searches, and frisking are a routine which common people as well as government officials have to undergo. The occupants of these VIP residences are virtual prisoners. They cannot just walk out casually at their sweet will but coming in and going out involves a complete security drill. Travelling for them is a cumbersome and meticulous exercise. Chief Minister travels with more than a dozen vehicles. First of all the route has to be sanitised. The cavalcade is led by jeeps with blaring sirens and traffic from the opposite direction and side roads are blocked. There are three to four similar bullet proof cars and one does not know in which vehicle the VIP is sitting. These are accompanied by a car carrying the electronic jammer to jam all remote control devices. The jammer costs anything between crore and a half to three crores. Finally comes the ambulance with doctor and other life saving facilities. Every movement of the VIP throws traffic in a tizzy. It may have been better if the VIP shuttles within the city also in a helicopter. It would save people lot of inconvenience and harassment. Once I saw on a bridge a flock of sheep huddled by security men. They were posing a security threat and could not be allowed to move unless the VIP had crossed. The security for the Prime Minister is a few steps ahead of this. He has Special Protection Group (SPG), an elite group of commandos equipped with sophisticated gadgetry guarding him all the time. Major General V K Singh in his book “India’s External Intelligence” mentions, “After the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the SPG was raised to protect the Prime Minister. Like the Secret Service in the USA, the SPG is expected to protect the life of the Chief Executive. However, it was never intended that it should be done by causing hardships to general public. Roads are closed for long periods, leading to traffic jams. People miss flights and trains, and seriously ill patients cannot reach the hospital in time. Often, the airport itself is closed, and the flights are diverted to other stations, causing great inconvenience to everyone. The SPG treats common citizens like cattle, and we put up with it! Why should we? Is the life of one person more important than that of the critically ill patient being rushed to hospital?” The SPG has a carte blanche in its functioning and calls shots in all matters concerning security and it has no limits on its expenditure. The same group is now also giving cover to some other VIPs in different parts of India. The arrangements for the travel of General Musharraf on the other side of the border are still more cumbersome. In his case, almost two to three cavalcades leave at one and the same time and no one is sure in which one is he travelling. He has had a number of suicide attacks and once had a narrow escape. The funniest part is when these leaders address public meetings. The public has to be segregated at a safe distance behind a fence. The leader addresses the public from behind a bullet proof screen. Bouquets and garlands are totally prohibited. Free mingling with the people is out of question. However, many a times the leaders get frustrated and break the cordon to be one with the masses. This gives a nightmare to the security bosses. The worst nightmare is when a VIP visits a private house. There is an elaborate drill for sanitising the place in advance. The visit culminates into virtual security raid on the house and the inmates are glad when the VIP leaves and they heave a sigh of great relief. All this security hassle has been prompted by the terrorism which has spread like an epidemic universally. The most frightening being the suicide bomber. There is no defence in any of the security drills against a person who has made up his mind to kill himself. This threat has raised security concerns all over the world and security personnel have to go to extreme lengths to safe guard political leaders and other important public figures. However, in some of the developed countries they mostly depend on an efficient intelligence apparatus which is most of the time able to gather advance intelligence. Moreover, the security is very unobtrusive and clandestine. People at large are hardly able to notice and pin point it. On the contrary our people depend on visible human shield approach and in this regard they have taken the drill of obtrusive security a bit too far. In fact, the personal security has acquired a snobbish value. Now every Tom, Dick, and Harry has a pso (personal security officer). Even the persons who have taken part in the past elections but lost have security officers. Some retired bureaucrats also continue to have security at their residences and also keep personal security officers. The height of irony is that some of the pro-freedom leaders too have government security! In a number of cases these security officers undertake many domestic chores rather than security tasks. This entire business of security entails massive expenditure running into hundreds of crores. In earlier times the authoritarian communist regimes were notorious for their security apparatuses. However, these days the security set ups in the democratic countries are more powerful and elaborate. They override all other considerations in the name of security and the highest priority goes to what is termed as “National Security”. With all this security paraphernalia and the accompanying phobia, one wonders whether our present leaders can still call themselves “Popular” leaders. They cause more of inconvenience to common people and one could do without them especially on the roads.

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