Friday, May 24, 2024

Ill-mannered VIP


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I am a regular commuter through the Umiam bridge and hence had to face the notorious traffic jam at this bridge for some time now. Last week I was waiting in traffic here as always when I heard a wailing ambulance moving towards the Guwahati road. On the other hand there was another loud siren of some VIP (Very Irritating Person) overtaking the long queue and driving on the wrong side towards Shillong. Gunmen in a large jeep were ominously waving their guns and asking the ambulance to make way for a white swanky SUV with dark tinted glasses as some VVIP was obviously in a tearing hurry to get home to see his wife probably, which ultimately caused the ambulance to remain painfully trapped in traffic. As each precious second ticked by, I thought of the person in the ambulance whose life was being held hostage by an uncaring ill-mannered cheap VIP that refused to make way for what was a life- threatening emergency.
The person in the ambulance could well have been my father or mother and that hit me really hard. But VIPs don’t care about a life- threatening situation or a medical emergency. The arrogant VIP’s attitude of entitlement left me reflecting on the callousness of ordinary citizens and the fundamental disconnect between the public and the servants. The VIP culture in Meghalaya is omnipresent. Over the years, the numbers of VIPs have grown so large, that even the driver of elected representatives have become VIPs. Elected officials, senior bureaucrats, high ranking police, friends and relatives of elected representatives and members of political parties of the ruling dispensation all wave flags and blow loud sirens in a race for privilege. Getting roads blocked to get priority passage, having armed guards wave guns and blow loud sirens have become everyday status symbols of VIP power in our state. It is ironic that those elected to serve the people deny the very people they serve access to themselves.
Contrast this with developed democracies where equality before the law governs the demeanour of public servants. The former Governor of Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis, was famous for regularly taking public transportation even while he was Governor. Former Prime Minister of UK Boris Johnson and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte cycle to office every day. Imagine our Chief Minister taking public transportation or riding a cycle to work. A fundamental precept of democratic governance is equality of all citizens before the law; the rule of law applies equally to all citizens. No public servant, not even the President or Prime Minister, is above the law.
Once there was an incident where a publicly elected official in the UK was pulled aside for speeding. In Meghalaya, the police officer would have bowed in deference once he recognised the public servant. In the UK, the police officer strictly reprimanded the public servant and told him that as an elected official he had a higher duty to uphold the law to set an example for the public. The elected official apologised and quietly paid his speeding ticket. In Meghalaya, the police officer would have been abused and transferred/ suspended. If our public servants could learn from their colleagues abroad, they would not be so prone to seeking privileges. Dismantling their privileged fortresses would force them to experience how democracy is undermined when VVIPs break all rules and traffic laws. Few weeks before the Lok Sabha elections an aspiring candidate wearing jain kyrshah was seen serving tea to the public; also our Chief Minister was standing in a long queue with the general public to cast his vote. If you can show your pro-people attitude, good manners and patience before elections, why can’t you do the same even when you are in power. But once elected and in power you suddenly take a 360 degree turn and blow your car sirens to your heart’s content and push the common man off the road as if the road belongs to your great grandfather. Hypocrite! Absolute hypocrite. The Voice of the People Party President has once brought a notice in the state assembly about too many people behaving as VIPs in our state. My humble request to him is that if his Party ever comes to power, he should dismantle this nauseous culture because we’ve had enough of this boorish VIP culture in Meghalaya.
Yours etc.,
M C Lymba,
Shillong 08

Dictators don’t live forever

The editorial “Powerful Putin” (ST May 8, 2024) rightly pointed out that, “Putin might or might not survive the present term. Expectation among the western nations is that Russia is set for a change of leadership sooner than later.” Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, President Vladimir Putin seemed poised to remain in power indefinitely. However, recent events have introduced uncertainty into Russia’s political landscape. Under the constitutional amendments passed in 2020, Putin can potentially stay in office until 2036, when he would be 83 years old. Despite economic challenges and international tensions, Putin remains popular within Russia though approval ratings in an autocratic society may not fully reflect public sentiments.
The war has tested Russia’s leadership and regime stability. The Kremlin has stabilized the political system after the mutiny of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the deceased leader of the private military company Wagner Group. However, internal elite politics and competition remain opaque and could lead to unexpected outcomes. Leadership change in Russia need not hinge on a decisive loss in the war against Ukraine. The relationship between the two events is complex and intertwined. Putin’s successor is likely to emerge from within the current system given the omnipresence of the state and the weakness of civil society. While Putin has forgone opportunities to appoint a successor in the past, elite power struggle may trigger a top-down process of change. The United States and its allies should anticipate the possibility of leadership change in Moscow. Preparing for both harmful consequences and potential opportunities is crucial. The Russian economy’s strain and ongoing elite power struggles make leadership change probable. While Putin’s grip on power remains strong, the dynamics within Russia suggest that leadership change is not out of the realm of possibility. The world must be ready to navigate this complex scenario.
Yours etc;
VK Lyngdoh,
Via email


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