If politicians can behave this way in public, what might they be willing to do to get their way outside the camera’s glare?

Diwakar Reddys rowdyism VIP culture will thrive if thuggish politicos arent punishedPTI/File Photo
Voices Opinion Friday, June 16, 2017 - 19:03

It wasn't just another tantrum, it was physical assault, going by the CCTV footage. It was willful destruction of property. For TDP MP Diwakar Reddy, it was perhaps unthinkable that a lowly Indigo staffer at the Vizag airport would dare to stick to rules and refuse to let him board a flight after arriving 15 minutes after final call. 

The flight is on the tarmac and I am here, so why can't I board, he must have thought – and rules be damned. All he had to do was throw around office hardware and push around a couple of employees to get his way. 

And this wasn't Reddy's first run in with airline staff. In October last year, he created a similar ruckus at Gannavaram airport in Vijayawada, again after he arrived late for his flight. He got his way there too. 
And clearly, that’s what it's all about – getting one’s way by any means possible.

What's really worrying, though, is not what was caught on CCTV camera. The scary part is imagining what such ego-ridden, power-crazy politicians might do in private spaces to get what they want, when they are outside the glare of cameras. 

The best illustration of how feudal India still thrives is the political class. No doubt, behind the facade of modern corporate culture and new age platitudes are bosses who think employees are really slaves. But it's in politics that power truly gets exposed for the crudity it really is. 

It is this sort of behaviour which defines many of our politicians. They are meant to be elected as people's representatives, as public servants. But behind the closed doors of party and ministry offices they turn into legislator-bosses, who are ruthless, abusive, feudal and violent. 

It’s only during election season that the public find their backs bending, their palms folding, their meek smiles turned toward them. On other occasions, the way politicians deal with constituents who voted them to power and government officials who work alongside, overflows with entitlement.

There are more than enough instances to prove this point. There’s Ravindra Gaikwad of the Shiv Sena, who assaulted an Air India staffer because he was angry at being denied a business class ticket on an all-economy flight. Or BJP MLA Sriram Sonkar, who slapped a Home Guard in Lucknow who told his driver not to drive on the wrong side of a one-way street. There are the VIPs from the Congress in Karnataka, for whom an ambulance with a critical patient was stopped for many minutes.

The airliners have now got together and barred Reddy from traveling on their flights. But this is not enough to stop our entitled politicians from behaving like this.

Politicians have to know, and be told, that they have to be more accountable for all their actions. In every such incident, and on social media after, citizens have to intervene and show that such behaviour will cost leaders political capital and votes.

Arrogance and violent misbehaviour must be attached to direct costs. Every such incident must be escalated right up to the top most leader in the chain – in this instance, Chandrababu Naidu – to demand action.

It must be made clear that the embarrassment from such incidents must be their own, and their leaders. And the burden of consequences should fall on them too. The consensus air carriers are showing about seeking a punitive response to thuggish politicians is a good step in that direction.

And if governments, at the Centre and elsewhere, are serious about dismantling VIP culture, then they would do well to respond with the power of law, and ensure that it is applied sincerely and without favour. A robustly applied no-fly list for anyone, high or low, who misbehaves on airplanes and in airports, would certainly be a great start. 

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