In my book Games Indians Play (Penguin, December 2006), I refer to 12 canons of Indianness of which one is our “sense of self-worth that is massaged only if we have the authority to break rules.” P.V. Abdul Wahab, the Kerala non-resident Indian businessman and Rajya Sabha member of Parliament, has simply been living the canon.
So what if the poor man arrived 15 minutes past the departure time of the Air India flight? After all, isn’t the same airline usually reluctant to give a first-row seat even to its full-fare paying members, on the off chance that a VIP at the last moment, or even past the last moment, may straggle by? Don’t VIPs of every ilk and their aunts routinely jump long security queues at the airports with impunity? Isn’t our home-grown feminist minister reported to have done the same to a JetLite flight? Don’t our “lawmakers” keep idiots like us held up mid-street by a zillion traffic cops as they zoom past the red lights? What if an odd brother-in-law of a railway minister insists on a train stopping at a particular platform of his choice or a VIP’s progeny mows down half a dozen pathetic pedestrians?
So what’s all the fuss about if an odd airline or a traffic rule or slightly more important laws pertaining to inciting lingual, regional or even communal hatred and violence are broken by the lawmakers? Surely everybody understands that laws aren’t meant for VIPs? The heavens will not fall if a couple of hundred poor sods are kept waiting on a plane or a few thousand others kept waiting mid-traffic, will they?
Of course, Wahab is all set to teach the silly pilot a lesson through a privilege motion in Parliament. Of course, his colleagues supporting the motion will laugh considering the plane was held up by a measly 15 minutes. Surely they are entitled to higher perquisites? Surely it was quite the thing to do for the good parliamentarian to bad-mouth the pilot of the national carrier and wash a bit of the country’s linen before a staff reporter of Dubai’s Khaleej Times? Very smart of him to put the pilot firmly in his place by calling him “nothing but a glorified driver” and admit to as much on prime-time television with a smile, innocent of whether the remark hurt the drivers, pilots or himself the most!
Air India will, of course, investigate the matter, and between Parliament and the top brass of Air India, they will teach pilots a management lesson on how the customer is always right, particularly if that customer is a “VIP”; never mind 200 other suckers who also pretend to be customers.
It is an altogether different matter that our VIPs are not the only ones jumping queues. We all do it at the municipal taps and at airport queues. They are not the only ones jumping red lights or bending or breaking rules in other ways. They are not the only impediment to a functioning society. We as Indians are collectively guilty of all of these traits and then some. After all, VIPs are simply us, when we have made it good, right? We rarely rebel against such conduct of VIPs because we see ourselves in them. If only we were as successful, we would behave likewise. We might have become “free” since 1947, but in our minds we are slaves still, watching the VIPs treat us much as the “gora log” treated the “natives”. Hence we understand. But if we choose not to understand, let us give a big hand to the pilot! Bravo my friend! It will take many more like you to free us from our slave mentality. If the Rajya Sabha brings about a privilege motion against a pilot for upholding the most sacred tenet of democracy, namely the equality of all, we will know what to make of our Rajya Sabha.
V. Raghunathan is CEO, GMR Varalakshmi Foundation. Views are personal. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org