Air India is no longer under government control but that does not mean the privatised airline — like others, all in the private hands — will escape the VIP culture. Private airlines, like private airports, will have to make provisions to ensure that MPs get the special treatment, euphemistically called “protocol/courtesy/support to Members of Parliament (MPs) at airports.”
An official of the Ministry of Civil Aviation asked airlines to follow the protocols in a letter dated September 21: “I am directed to say that instructions have been issued from time to time for extending protocol/courtesy/support to MPs at airports. However, some issues of negligence regarding extending the protocol/courtesy to honourable MPs at airports have come to notice of this ministry. The instructions are hereby re-circulated and all concerned are requested to comply with the same in letter and spirit.”
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Therefore, the duty manager, facilitation and senior staff must “facilitate hon’ble MPs for completion of check-in formalities when they report at the airport. Seats of their choice to be allotted to them subject to availability. Efforts should be made to reserve seats in front row for hon’ble MPs.” Further, “travel details of hon’ble MPs should be passed on to the concerned airport directors so that necessary assistance could be extended to MPs through the identified protocol officer.”
Airport authorities too have been directed to facilitate the travel of MPs. “AAI and other airport operators (that is, private operators) should facilitate parking of vehicles of MPs in the VIP car parking area on the basis of pass issued to MPs for Parliament House car park. All airport directors should nominate a protocol officer from AAI [who] shall facilitate hon’ble MPs. [Ensure] facilitation for check-in after proper coordination with airlines. Facilitation for security check after coordination with CISF and airlines for smooth, prompt security check while entering SHA (security hold area) and at boarding gate for smooth (passage),” the letter says.
There is nothing wrong in MPs, and other categories of people, getting special treatment when the purpose of the journey demands that. For instance, if an MP is going to Delhi to attend Parliament or visiting some place as part of his oversight duty, extending the necessary protocols is kosher. But extending the same privileges when he and his family are going on a vacation does not seem to be very proper.
It looks like the Ministry of Civil Aviation issued the letter to placate MPs over the sale of Air India to the Tatas. It is a well-known fact that the political class is not favourably disposed towards privatisation and other liberalising measures, for our political masters are doctrinally and temperamentally statist.
Therefore, an end of special treatment, along with the privatisation of the national carrier and airports would have riled them no end. The notification may calm their nerves by comforting them that even if the airlines and airports are now in private hands, their privileges have not been touched.
It needs to be mentioned here that India’s lawmakers have increasingly been marginalised over the years. Since Independence, power has been centralised at the Centre and in states; the people who matter in politics are chief political executives (the prime minister and chief ministers), the coteries surrounding them, and party managers.
Things became especially bad for the representatives of people after 1985, when the anti-defection law was enacted in the name of checking corruption and opportunism in politics. The stated objectives were not achieved but MPs and members of legislative assembly (MLAs) were tamed by the high commands and party managers.
In the 1990s, MPs and MLAs were mollycoddled by the local area development scheme, which gave lawmakers executive authority to spend some money in their constituencies.
They were also appeased by way of various allowances, benefits, and privileges. In the pre-liberalisation era, MPs had the clout to get young men and women jobs in PSUs or government and semi-government bodies. They could do so many other things; they could get you a cooking gas connection, a telephone, cement, etc. The more influential MPs could even help a businessman get a petrol pump.
Continuing their special treatment at airports, which in the above-mentioned letter intends to do, will do little to restore their authority and dignity. On the contrary, it will further fuel the anti-politician attitude among people.
The author is a freelance journalist. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.