Srinagar, Nov 13 (IANS): A gesture by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to halt his cavalcade to make way for an ambulance in Shimla won many hearts.
It was not the first time that Prime Minister Modi showed humility, from the day he took office as the country’s Prime Minister, he always acted like a ‘Pradhan Sevak’ and sent a message that all are equal.
The Prime Minister’s humble gestures over the past 8 years have helped wipe out VIP culture across the country and Jammu and Kashmir was no exception.
Until August 5, 2019 – when the Center announced its decision to repeal J&K’s special status and divide it into two union territories – the politicians who ruled the Himalayan region acted like monarchs.
Whenever a minister’s cavalcade passed through any street in J&K, traffic was stopped to facilitate its movement and the commoners had no choice but to wait. The traffic jams caused to facilitate the movement of VIPs meant that many ambulances transporting patients to the hospital were stuck in the traffic jam.
J&K ministers and MPs used to skip the queue because they belonged to a special class.
The doors of the Civil Secretariat were closed when former J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah used to enter the office. No one was allowed to roam the streets of J&K when Omar’s cavalcade, with himself at the wheel, passed.
Until 2019, each leader of a political party benefited from a special protocol at J&K. Even a few separatists, who were in the pay of Pakistan and served as minions to the neighboring country, benefited from special security cover and a fleet of government vehicles.
Former regimes spent millions promoting VIP culture
Traveling in official vehicles and having a trail of security guards was considered a status symbol at J&K. The old regimes spent millions of dollars every month on the security of “protected” people.
The Tribune in April 2017 reported that a whopping sum of almost Rs 3 crore was spent on fuel for ministers’ security vehicles in two years. This excluded the amount spent on other ministerial vehicles, which were still part of the cavalcade of ministers.
The report claimed that nearly Rs 285 crore had been spent on fuel for vehicles deployed for the security of ministers.
Until 2019, there were 1,785 “protected” people at J&K. These included 1,463 categorized and 322 uncategorized – who had security coverage in the form of personal security officers (PSOs), residential guards, vehicles or accommodation. Additionally, 284 political activists had been housed in secure hotels across the state.
The former J&K government was spending Rs 12-15 crore to maintain the VIP status of 1,785 categorized and uncategorized citizens of J&K. Those categorized people received 3,982 OSPs and the 322 uncategorized VIPs received 482 OSPs.
In addition, these “protected” people had 564 guards at their homes to ensure their security 24 hours a day.
The J&K Police Security Wing had provided them with 811 vehicles. The cost of fuel and maintenance for these vehicles was borne by the police.
J&K House in New Delhi
Another symbol of widespread VIP culture was J&K House at Chanakyapuri in New Delhi. It remained reserved for politicians, their family members and other influential people. Ordinary mortals did not have access to it.
The J&K house comprises three blocks, AB and C, comprising 57 rooms, four VIP suites and 38 living quarters. These were only awarded to people who carried a recommendation from a minister or MP.
Many J&K patients who used to travel to New Delhi were denied a room as the establishment remained VIP-only.
Omar reinforced the VIP culture
The VIP culture was so deeply rooted in Jammu and Kashmir that not only ministers and MPs enjoyed privileges, but their friends and relatives also enjoyed luxurious accommodation inside and outside J&K.
Housekeepers for legislators were paid by the government
When Omar Abdullah was chief minister of J&K, he bolstered the VIP culture in this former cash-hungry state by granting extra perks and incentives to ministers and lawmakers. The Omar Abdullah-led regime has taken a big leap forward from the central government and Members of Parliament (MPs) by raising the salary of each J&K legislator by more than Rs 30,000 compared to Lok Sabha members.
Apart from high salaries, Omar spearheaded the dispensation given to ministers and legislators of attractive benefits, free vehicles, security, medical allowance, housing allowance, travel allowance, home loans, free housing, air travel, car travel, electricity and drinking water.
No remaining VIPs
Over the past three years, J&K’s VIP culture has been completely shattered. Senior government officials are moving with the commoners, as none other than the Prime Minister has led from the front to make it clear that VIP culture is not acceptable.
The Centre’s decision to remove Section 370, a temporary provision from the Constitution of India, paved the way for the implementation of the right to equality at J&K after seven decades. This decision instilled confidence among ordinary residents of J&K that they are part of the democratic setup and that the rule of monarchs and VIPs has come to an end.
For 70 years, the people of J&K have been misled by politicians, who have peddled blatant lies to stay in power. These rulers under the guise of special J&K status continued to reap the rewards of power and disenfranchised the common man.
Lawmakers receive eviction notices
In September 2020, the Estates Department issued notices to 31 former lawmakers asking them to vacate government housing, which was under their illegal occupation in Srinagar.
The notice said those lawmakers were no longer allowed to retain government housing under the rules and were responsible for charging panel rent for the unauthorized period.
Last month, the J&K government asked PDP chairman and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti to vacate his Fairview residence in Gupkar Road no later than November 15, stating the response provided by her in response to the eviction notice. which was served on him on October 15, 2022 did not justify the maintenance of the accommodation.
The former J&K chief minister has been told the government has not granted him any extension to keep the accommodation beyond December 31, 2018.
He was reminded that the legal provision under which ex-CMs were entitled to various facilities including “free residential accommodation” was repealed by the Indian government in 2020.
The “Red Beacon” culture is disappearing
Over the past three years, a lot has changed at J&K, the “Red Beacon” culture that was once a symbol of authority has disappeared. The red lights used to symbolize power and the sharp differentiation between those who were allowed to use them and those who weren’t are no longer prevalent in J&K.
Every vehicle traveling on J&K roads must obey the law, regardless of who is traveling there. The treasury is not gutted to provide VIP privileges, and the J&K House in New Delhi has not been earmarked for a select class of people.
The “New India” is led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who played a pivotal role in ending VIP culture. His message is clear to everyone that people are the source of power and those who are fortunate enough to rule them are not special beings. They are part of the commoners.