Guest Editorial 8 (Morung Express)
When you go to weddings, you hear the announcement, ‘to my extreme right is the vegetarian table. The other tables have the same items and you can go to any of them’. This is a positive move towards equality that we have been practicing during wedding feasts. Officers’ mess or VIP tables were very common in the past. Those were the places where special treatments were given to the VIPs. The tables looked more beautiful, the food items were more special, and there were shorter queues. But thankfully in many programs, we are doing away with that VIP culture. Those who hold feasts are realizing that there should not be preferential treatment in serving food, and all guests should enjoy the same food together. I think the shift is shaped by Christian teaching of equality and the change in culture is brought through practice in church circles. But there is still a long way to go when it comes to the sitting arrangements in churches. Fashionably late comers still get the front rows.
VIP culture is very much visible in the roadside behavior of motorists. On a big wide road where there is ample space for overtaking, the escort police stretch out their hands to slow you down so the VIP can pass. Such an instance is not about the VIP being in a hurry for an important meeting (because you are not slowing him down), but it is a sign that you are not as important, and the one passing through has greater authority over the road than you. I once attended a meeting where an MLA said that the bus and taxi drivers in Kohima must be taught driving etiquette. But going by the frequency of driving through a traffic jam and other traffic violations, the VIPs and their drivers might require such trainings more than the other drivers.
Several years back, I went for VIP duty to Dimapur. The VVIP was to come to Kohima from Dimapur and I had to be on stand-by for any medical emergency. I thought that I simply had to go and escort him back and it wouldn’t take much time. When I reached Dimapur, he had not eaten breakfast yet. After an hour or so, he had breakfast. Then we were told that to go to Kohima early or late will depend on whether India bats first or not. I don’t remember if it was the toss or the weather, India didn’t bat first and the VVIP decided to go. He took lunch (it took a long time) and it was already late afternoon we set out. The cars were flying and we reached Kohima in about an hour. There were whistles and cars moving in both directions stood like dead meat to make way. It might appear that the VVIP was in such a hurry on a very important official assignment. But it was a day when he took a full day to have breakfast, decide his journey based on a cricket match, take lunch, and head back to base. He wasted the time of a train of escorts (there were lots of us), and others (policemen guarding the highway, fellow travelers, etc) all for his comfort.
Having a connection works. A chit from the top works in your application for a job. Having someone on the inside helps in getting things done. Having a prefix before your name (e.g. Dr.) or a designation after (e.g. president, managing director) helps. It is tempting to flash it so people will take notice and ease your passage. So long as we resign to this culture - that our society is run this way and this is the way things are - the desire for status, power, and connection is perpetuated and VIP culture is promoted.