What raises a person to the status of ‘very important person?
A good number of our VIPs seem to be ready to give short shrift to security at the airport in the nation’s capital and perhaps at other airports in the country as well. We really cannot blame them, can we?
For they are individuals who happen to be inhabiting the very upper layers of society with all their privileges and their presumptions about their place in the world.
As for responsibilities, that sense of public duty, of being embodiments of decency and discipline before the country, they are not unduly worried.
At the airport, it is the non-VIPs, the plebeians, who should be following regulations. Those who dare question VIPs or attempt to prevent them from flouting the rules should know that gods, even if they have feet of clay, are not to have their wrath aroused.
They ought not to come between an omnipotent VIP and his wrath.
And so let all those VIPs with grand notions of their places in the administrative and social and political superstructure of the country pass through the gates without any impediment coming their way.
If the VIP happens to be a lapsed movie actor now busily organizing a movement to ensure safety on the roads, he can easily go into the terminal building with a gun with no one around to detect that weapon or question him on that surprising violation of regulations.
Of course, he seeks to explain away the entire ugly episode. The uglier part of the story is that no one in civil aviation comes forth to apply the law on him, to prosecute him.
That is VIP power, one which another individual -- we are not sure if he has the VIP mark stamped on him -- tries to demonstrate a few days later. He too goes free. And then, of course, we have the incident of a young man boarding an aircraft and then trying to hijack it before he is overpowered, and then, mysteriously, put out of life.
But let us be serious. In a country teeming with more than 160 million people, almost all of whom are men and women trying to live through the day with as much honour and self-esteem as they can summon, having VIPs is an absurdity, almost an obscenity. And what are the qualifications which raise an individual to the status of a VIP, which essentially means he/she remains far removed from the sweating, tired, hungry, angry, and huddling multitudes?
Our VIPs were once like us, toiling away for a living, walking long distances in the heat of the sun, going to humble rural schools, dreaming of glittering futures for themselves and their families.
They were not VIPs at a time when the species was a rarity. But times have changed. And how do we know who is a VIP?
There are the many means of identifying, detective-like, a VIP in a roomful of people. He is the one who does not generally smile, who grunts in answer to a greeting.
The very first sign of the arrival of a VIP in a room or a hall is when the host scrambles to welcome him, an act which is soon followed by a bevy of fawning men, plastic smiles enveloping their faces, gathering around him to nod furiously in agreement at every sign of inane wisdom from him.
This VIP may be a bureaucrat or a man whose business interests have carried him far and wide around the globe. Or he could be a self-important journalist perennially on the look-out for invitations to seminars abroad where he has nothing to say; or he is fishing for chances to purloin invitations really meant for one of his reporters and fly off to a charming foreign land.
A VIP, if he is a political leader, is easy to spot. He and his kind make what they believe is a grand entry at such seminal occasions as the Ekushey book fair, with a retinue of hangers-on behind them, hanging on to their every word.
In the many districts, the VIP is the DC who invites guests to his mansion, and has them served by junior officers at the lunch table.
One day those junior officers too will rise to being VIPs. A VIP has his subordinates stand around him and will not ask them to sit on the empty chairs before them.
Our VIPs may be ready to fling every rule into the bin at airports in the country, but you can be sure they put on their best demeanour when they land at foreign airports.
There is a reason: Over there they cannot jump the queue or reprimand the security man or threaten him with loss of job if he so much as questions his bending of the rules.
But, of course, there are the hundred and one ways in which our governmental VIPs, once they step on to foreign territory, demonstrate the authority their office gives them.
They keep our diplomats abroad on their toes, through having them engage in protocol duties they are not supposed to perform. They expect obeisance from our diplomats, who for their part are also quite adept, in their own time, in flaunting their own VIP colours before people lower down the social scale.
A VIP culture is most pernicious owing to the class consciousness it creates in a society of humble citizens.
It undermines the concept of democratic governance.
It is a serious assault on our collective sensibilities -- judging by the jeopardy VIPs have put our airports into through forcing their way in because they will not be checked by those low-paid security personnel -- on the rule of law.
Again, VIPs, by their kowtowing before other, more Brahminic VIPs, help broaden and deepen an ugly tradition of sycophancy, and so subtly put in place a social base where discrimination eats away at the vitals of governance.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman knew, through his long struggle for democracy in Pakistan, the risks VIPs posed to citizens.
Post-liberation, he loudly demanded that our bureaucrats, those emblems of class identity, go back to their roots, mingle with the masses, pull up their trousers, and get down to doing practical work in agriculture.
Bangabandhu is not around. But those VIPs are, which is a shame.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is a journalist and biographer.