Authority And Abuse

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If seen in the context of the subcontinent’s political culture, Monday’s attack on a traffic police officer by a cabinet minister’s security guards is entirely in character. It was only a slightly cruder display of practices in vogue with respect to VIPs and VVIPs, of which right- of-way in city traffic – or traffic anywhere – is just one privilege. Otherwise, the preferred mode of exercising such entitlements is a wholesale officially-induced paralytic stroke of vehicular flow until a particular specimen of the perpetually endangered species is well on its way. One is reminded of a number of outraged write-ups in the Indian press over regular and large-scale traffic hold-ups in the capital for the prime minister’s convoy. It is not clear whether political authority at the country’s highest levels has relinquished this refined expression of civilisation, but lesser variants appear to be loath to give up these small signs and symbols that make life worthwhile amid a deficiency of self-worth. But the opening contention was about sub-continental mores, and a relative evaluation of Kashmir. Need more be said when one sub-continental neighbour describes it as its crowning glory, and the other as its jugular vein? The implication is that no matter how high the standards are in India and Pakistan, they must be even higher in Kashmir. After all, does it not have a special position and status, and an international dispute, to boot? Anyone inclined to forget it is liable to get a sharp reminder from a Personal Security Officer who, in poetic justice, uses nothing other than the AK 47, if only from the butt-end.

The feature standing out in Monday’s incident near the TRC Crossing in Kashmir is that the traffic police officer was doing his duty, and that this duty appeared to be at cross-purposes with the real or perceived delicate sensibilities and conveniences of a cabinet minister. Now, this is an intolerable state of affairs. The last thing the sub-continent’s political class want is anyone harbouring old-fashioned notions of duty. For this is the ultimate spanner in the works, the ultimate threat to a system devised over six decades and more, where the only yardstick of performance is service, of a variety of sorts, to those in power. And as the unfolding drama on news media aptly indicates, the brotherhood of the powerful is, with rare exceptions, also a fraternity of loot. Were it not for the massive scale of its operations, it could easily have been described as a syndicate of petty gangsters. One of the other factors is that political power has gradually become an agency lifting an individual above the law. This is now the only motive driving anyone to take politics as a career or vocation. The personal security guards of the cabinet minister in question were acting entirely within the ambit of privilege and immunity derived from political authority, and were simply extensions of the worthy’s power. It is of little consequence whether the cabinet minister had, or had not, driven off by the time the incident happened. His guards only did what they are accustomed to do, by compulsion of habits and expectations instituted by the cabinet minister and others of his kind. Incidents of Monday’s kind are inevitable where authority is synonymous with abuse.

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