16 January 2014

Monarchical signatures

The British monarchy is not what it was.  Elizabeth is not Victoria.  On the other hand, she has outlasted more than a dozen prime ministers, most of whose names few would remember today.  She has when considered fit snubbed the high and might who rule in the name of the people.  Royalty still has currency in that island.  It is for this reason and no other that it is ‘news’ when her grandson William decides to hop into a train to go to school.  
William doesn’t need publicity. He doesn’t have to solicit votes.  So even though there is ire over his admission to Cambridge due to low grades at the A-level prompting snide comments about the advantage of being a registered benefactor of the department he will be studying at, there is also appreciation of humility on the part of this unemployed but very rich young man.

It may be a one-off thing or at best a 10 month gimmick, let’s say.  Still!

Now contrast this with the arrogant, in-your-face and over-your-body VIPs and VVIPs of Sri Lanka.  In most cases the label is a self-affix. In a democracy, unlike in a monarchy, everyone is equally important.  Everyone’s time is precious. Everyone needs to get from A to B quickly and safely.   

That’s why there are roads, traffic lights and public transport. 

Everyone has a day-plan.  Some have to get to school on time and others have to get to work on time.  Some have to travel as part of their jobs.  People make appointment and don’t want to keep anyone waiting and don’t like having to wait either.  Even the unemployed have to get from A to B.   
Retirees have people to visit. The sick have to go to hospital.  People have to cross the road. Salespersons have to go from shop to shop, town to town.  Traders have to transport goods.  Holiday makers don’t want to waste precious vacation time on the road. 

No one’s job or life is more important than those of anyone else. The President has appointments to keep and they are important.  It’s the same for ministers and government officials. It’s the same for cub reporters.  There cannot ever be an arbitrating authority determining the an Order of Importance.  On anything.  The exception would be emergencies.  This is why people readily and gladly make way for ambulances, for example.

Security is a concern for everyone.  There was a time of course when security concerns warranted extra caution for likely targets of terrorist attacks.  After all, many key individuals in both government and military had been assassinated.  That was then. This is now.  The Government brags about eliminating terrorism. The other side of braggadocio is that you have to support the claim of peace by demonstrating that there’s no need for caution. 

President Mahinda Rajapaksa is known to be a people’s politician.  He enjoys his informal chit-chats with ordinary folk he encounters while executing his official duties.  If he can walk around without bullet vest then there’s absolutely no reason why anyone else should need to zip around the city in vehicle convoys. 

The decision to crack down on vehicles with VIP and VVIP labels is therefore praiseworthy and timely.  Ideally, ministers and officials will not only remove those labels but desist from flashing VIPness (by way of name-dropping for instance) when confronted by police officers for violating traffic laws. We are still a distance away from that kind of tag-irrelevancy, and not just in matters of ‘movement’. 

VIPness is not just a license to overtake ordinary citizens it also helps flout one-way laws in matters of propriety and lawfulness.  It has come to a point where in the eyes of the citizen the term politician is taken as a synonym for law-breaker.  Theft, smuggling, bribery, corruption, rape, sexual harassment, assault and murder among other transgressions are now seen as been seen as ‘ok’ for politicians.  That’s the power of VIPness.  That’s an indictment of the entire system.  That’s also a guffaw at democratic claims. 

As we said, the decision to make VIP labels obsolete is a good start.  We have to now get cracking on the VIP mindset, i.e. of the self-appointed and the subjugated silent.  The other option is to call this a monarchy with dukes and duchesses, counts and countesses, princes and princesses and ladies and gentlemen in waiting.  Then we could cheer if and when one of the worthies hops into a train. Or a threewheeler.    



sajic said...

I am not a fan of monarchy at all. But I believe the British Royals deserve what they are given by the State, because they sacrifice their most important possession- Privacy. Every move is watched and commented on. They are praised, they are vilified and they are spied on.
The man in the street is much more fortunate.

Malinda Seneviratne said...

If they polled the 'subjects' i am sure there'll be millions who would gladly give up privacy for the perks!

sajic said...

I doubt that, Malinda, I really doubt that!