How can a rigorous security procedure that is acceptable for Al Gore and Edward Kennedy qualify as an ‘insult’ for Shah Rukh Khan? The song and dance made in India over the Bollywood hero being held up for questioning at Newark airport in the United States is an insult to our collective intelligence. From fans of Shah Rukh Khan (who burnt American flags) to Union Ministers (one of whom declared it to be ‘unacceptable’ and promised to take it up with the U.S. government while another threatened tit-for-tat), the reaction has been irrational. After initially expressing anger and humiliation over having to go through a ‘secondary inspection’ for a little over an hour (which incidentally would have been shorter had his luggage not been misplaced), Mr. Khan has wisely brushed the incident off as “no big deal.” But the reactions at home do signal a mindset that is obsessed with VIP culture and the absurd notion that putting one of these worthies through a security procedure is a slight to our national honour. Recall the fuss made in India when ex-President Abdul Kalam was frisked before boarding an international flight? Following an uproar in Parliament that cut across party lines, the U.S. airline was coerced into issuing an ‘apology’ notwithstanding the fact it was following standard procedure applicable, incidentally, to American ex-heads of state. While Mr. Kalam, to his credit, refrained from making any complaint, he would have done even better had he firmly told his excitable compatriots that a routine security check was neither an ‘unpardonable act’ nor ‘a matter for national shame.’
Two years ago, a Minister of State for External Affairs had a spat with security personnel at Delhi’s international airport over a routine security check and for being denied access to the ceremonial lounge, which was available only to some categories of VIPs. The central government’s response? Dispense with security checks and extend the use of the lounge to Ministers of State. VIP privileges in India are increasingly becoming a way of flaunting status. Gradually, the police and the security system have become subordinate to a VIP culture that thrives on cutting corners. These Very Inconvenient Persons routinely jump queues, hold up plane departures, delay trains, skirt security measures, and drive rashly in proliferating red beacon cars. Fortunately, as several letters published in this newspaper indicate, the Indian public tends to apply robust common sense to disapprove of such VIP behaviour at home. So what is the sense of protesting when a foreign country or airline puts them through a security drill, as the law, rules, or standard procedure require them to do?