03 September 2012

Those killer VIP ‘Escort Squads’

Mike Dukakis, one time US Presidential Candidate and former Governor of the State of Massachusetts, took the ‘T’ to office everyday he worked.  ‘T’ as in the Subway.  We don’t know how he would have travelled had he defeated George Bush (Snr) in 1988 of course, but being Governor he could very well have been chauffeur-driven to work and back home.  That was long before 9/11 and panic of terrorist threat, so his security detail (if indeed he had one) would have been modest. 

This is 2012. Sri Lanka.  Until the war ended in May 2009 almost every single minister had a security escort as they whizzed around Colombo.  The bheeshanaya of 1988-89 which prompted those in power to tell their underlings ‘It’s every man for himself’ spawned many private security squads.   
Back then it was necessary.  This persisted until the end of the war.  People were inconvenienced and they grunted about it; after all terrorists targeted everyone and not just high-profile politicians.  It was a reality that people, by and large, learned to live with.

With the end of the war, the country has seen a gradual and determined phasing out of (at least) overt surveillance systems.  Escort squads have been downsized.  Commuters are not trumped by ‘movements’ on a daily basis.  The people are not ungrateful. 

On the other hand, a few weeks ago, a vehicle in a convoy escorting a VVIP knocked down an old woman who was trying to cross the road with her grandchild.  The child survived but the grandmother died.  Last week a vehicle carrying the security contingent of UPFA parliamentarian Roshan Ranasinghe crashed into a three wheeler at Jayanthipura, Polonnaruwa, killing one woman and injuring four others, including a five-year-old boy.   The three wheeler driver was violating the 3-passenger rule, but that’s hardly the point.  These are not the only occasions when ‘squads’ have been involved in accidents; these are not the only two people who have died.  Some might say ‘pedestrians and others need to get out of the way’, but why should they, on the other hand? 

These escort vehicles travel at dizzying speeds, violating speed-limit laws.  Some might say that the high and mighty are a busy lot and need to get from A to B really fast so that their productivity (in serving the people) can be optimized.  Well, the people who have died will not get served, that’s the bottom line!

It gets worse during election time, with almost all candidates whizzing around their respective electoral areas escorted by any number of cars, three-wheelers, vans and motorcycles, with or without permission from relevant authorities.  The public has to pay for their ‘show of strength’.  Pedestrians are always at risk.  The respective politicians, one must concede, are but mimicking their superiors and expressing, in a way, their aspirations. 

It is time to do away with all VIP and VVIP ‘movements’ except for those necessitated by ceremonial concerns, for they have very little to do with security-prerogative and are mostly about flouting power and position.  This is not to say that the President and other VVIPs do not have security concerns for we are not in 1988 but in 2012, i.e. in a threat-filled political world and anyway ‘political assassination’ pre-dates 9/11 by millennia, but there is a thing called ‘sense of proportion’. 

President Mahinda Rajapaksa must take the lead.  He can do it, for he is not known for airs and fixations about position-grandeur.  He has a considerable reputation of being a ‘man of the people’, a ‘one-of-us’ and is comfortable mingling with ordinary folk.  He, more than even the politicians in his party, would know that in peaceful times these kinds of ‘collateral’ are unacceptable. 

We can’t say ‘Take the T’ or ‘Take the Tube’ or ‘Take the Subway’ because we don’t have any.  We won’t say ‘Take a tuk-tuk’.  We will say ‘Take a break!’  

Reactions:

9 comments:

Feizal Mansoor said...

You speak only about the VIPs but ordinary Armed Forces vehicles blatantly violate all road rules within the sight of traffic police who do nothing. Speeding, overtaking across unbroken white lines, over the brows of hills and generally hogging the road.
Meanwhile ordinary motorist like me are hauled off to Traffic Court for not displaying a revenue license which was all paid up and in the car. I don't know if you are aware but at Negombo Magistrate's Court No 2 where the racist Raddolluwa Police (Muslim ekkana thamusata license'ekka oney nattha?) send hapless motorists is also where common criminals are tried and so one is held there until the fine and/or bail is paid.
I am planting bananas.

Anonymous said...

Feizal Mansoor is right. The Armed Forces behave as if they own the roads and the country. Do they?

Anonymous said...

a country gets the leaders it deserves.. why don,t you name the VVIP ..r u scared ? but not scared to name a low level politico like Ranasinghe ?

Ramzeen said...

True. Its ironic that the men we elect suddenly appear to be targets of some unknown devil. I mentally spit at these motorcades, call them "pul hora" and pray that a traffic jam will thwart their efforts.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure what can be done about military vehicles running berserk. But, being inconspicuous and practising simple precautions like avoiding routines (in time and route)are good ways of thwarting would-be assasins.

Malinda Seneviratne said...

To 'Anonymous' who wrote: 'a country gets the leaders it deserves.. why don,t you name the VVIP ..r u scared ? but not scared to name a low level politico like Ranasinghe ?'

The answer is, 'because I do not know'. It wasn't reported and the person who told me (someone close to the victim) did not know either. But Mr/Ms Brave Person, can you be brave enough to name yourself? :)

Malinda Seneviratne said...

To 'Anonymous' who wrote: 'a country gets the leaders it deserves.. why don,t you name the VVIP ..r u scared ? but not scared to name a low level politico like Ranasinghe ?'

The answer is, 'because I do not know'. It wasn't reported and the person who told me (someone close to the victim) did not know either. But Mr/Ms Brave Person, can you be brave enough to name yourself? :)

Malinda Seneviratne said...

To 'Anonymous' who wrote: 'a country gets the leaders it deserves.. why don,t you name the VVIP ..r u scared ? but not scared to name a low level politico like Ranasinghe ?'

The answer is, 'because I do not know'. It wasn't reported and the person who told me (someone close to the victim) did not know either. But Mr/Ms Brave Person, can you be brave enough to name yourself? :)

sajic said...

why is your comment repeated thrice?
emphasis?