People know who they’re and why the traffic is stopped and roads cleared…..a huge cavalcade of hooters and a pilot car clears the route. Cars with red lights and sirens are theirs. Commandos that guard them……. ranging from ‘X’-‘Y’, ‘Y’-‘Z’, and ‘Z’-‘Z+’ security cover…… are a measure of the political clout, social status and prestige. Here’s a VIP, for whom traffic is cleared (of the potential assassins among exasperated commuters). As everyone steps aside, there out-steps our big-shot from the rear seat of the beaconed car. The gun-trotting escort goes super-alert and the VIP lets himself fly on top of the world…… imagine Mayawati, on becoming CM of UP, commandeered 350 policemen to provide her with security cover and travel in a 25-vehicle cavalcade. Each time she decided to take a ride in her bullet-proof SUV, traffic was stopped, shopkeepers were asked to down their shutters, and pedestrians made to stand facing away from the street.
Top cats see themselves as indispensable to the country; the latter too has begun to see them as eminently indispensable. It’s this inflated sense of importance, of being able to manipulate the system, that has resulted in the creation of the ‘VIP’ who must be provided with round-the-clock security in the form of bullet-proof vehicles and gun-trotting commandos, no matter whether or not he actually faces a threat to his or her life. What’s important is that their security cover should shock and awe the masses. They believe they deserve special favors or treatment.
Imagine you’re driving a car and then you give lift to someone. How do you feel about the fellow when he attempts to sit in the back seat of your car while you drive? "Come and sit in front’. You don't want him to make you his driver. As far as cars are concerned, we’ve a special occupational community: the driver/chauffeur. He’s trained to provide the very service that we find very hard to accomplish especially in the Indian environment. He’s a professional, delivering a service and therefore calls for a professional relationship. Our position in the car establishes power. The bureaucrats, politicians and other biggies can be seen driving in the morning, maybe reading the paper or making call on cell-phone…… authority, power displayed overtly. The seat next to the driver is empty. The big-boss (with neck, rather body stiffened as if the car, its driver and the road all were under obligation to him) seated in the back directs the driver. One wonders whether this habit reveals a deep-rooted social segregation within or the toxic pride (kibr). The driver himself may not even feel hurt as he believes that this is how it should be. There’s no doubt that these class separations existed even when people travelled in horse-driven carts.
Those who can afford a driver definitely belong to the creamy layer of society. Drivers are from lower income groups. Therefore, this is also a function of socially accepted hierarchies. We send out some very important messages by sitting behind, ‘I-am-the-owner/boss, the-person-driving-me-is-not-related-to-me-in-anyway, and I/Government-pay(s)-the-person-to-do-this-job.’ As if there is a fear associated with this behaviour, we feel how safe we’re if we sit next to this person…… his safety issue related to the social background of the driver. Fear of the person, fear of the relationship, fear that ‘I-could-be-taken-advantage-of’ and a fear of ‘what-the-onlooker-would-think’…… probably a combination of all. Sometimes, when the boss drives with the driver, he’ll be asked to move to the back seat. This signifies a great discomfort in our having the driver next to us.
Sitting in the rear seat of the car and that too on the left side is an exclusive right of our VIP. In India, right-hand-drive cars are parked on the left side of the road. It’s easier for the VIP who sits in the rear seat to get into the left rear seat. More over the person sitting in the rear seat has better vision of road if he’s on the left side. His visibility to others is also more if he’s on the left side. To top it off sitting on the left side of the back seat, makes it easy to ingress and egress. There are no conventions as such but normally passengers sit on the left at the back as it doesn't interfere with the driver's rear view. Secondly, it is easier to get in and out as our traffic keeps to the left.
Chauffeur driven government cars, with red Beacons…..a fetish for VIP status…. seem to afflict almost everyone. Those who have made it in life, those who want to make it in life and those who want to bask in borrowed/reflected glory, the desire to be a VIP is all-pervasive. If you’ve to stand in a queue to get your work done, then you’re not important enough. You must be someone, or know someone who can help you jump the queue. Even better, if you can do things conspicuously, that is, the rest of the poor souls who’re miserable in the queue should know that you’re important enough and have been made to jump the queue. To blame it on the mindset of the wannabe VIPs alone would be wrong, for the common man too suffers from the medieval mindset, where the only way you think that a person is important is if he can bend rules and still go scot-free, and perhaps thumb his nose at the law as well.
Owning something that others covet provides a status symbol. The ostentatious display of dignity or importance that people with power and authority retain in the way they travel with motorcades, outriders and personal planes is symbolic of the pomp and show the emperors wore in the past. The dominant body sounds big and high. Body language (while coming out of the car)…… hands on the hip, chest and chin upright the bigwig walks down the middle of a path or corridor, expecting others to get out of the way, saying 'I-am-important' and also 'You’re-not-important'. The army of aides, secretaries, personal assistants, PSOs, commandos etc, part of whose job is merely to be seen to be servile towards him, thereby add to his image of social superiority.