A different kind of VIP

In a welcome step, the Wokha district administration recently cracks the whip on what it termed as “unauthorized or illegal use of government vehicles” by “children or other unauthorized persons” under its jurisdiction.


The Extra Assistant Commissioner (EAC) Wokha, as per a DIPR report, “brought to the attention” of all the officials provided with Government vehicles that no children or unauthorized persons are “allowed to drive the vehicles for any purpose, other than performing Government official duty by the concerned official” and were to be held ‘accountable for any misuse.’ It was a follow-up to a memorandum issued on October 3 by the State’s Transport Department, Government of Nagaland restricting such practices.


In essence, the circular means to convey that the officially allotted vehicles can be used only for ‘performing official duties.’ Such measure can be seen as taking forward the conspicuous donning of the anti-VIP avatar by the present People’s Democratic Alliance (PDA) Government in Nagaland. The Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio’s inaugural speech on March 8 and subsequent notifications issued thereafter were overt attempts to amplify the credentials.


Among others, it includes banning of government officials and functionaries as chief guest in public functions or making donations and announcements. Instead of receiving gifts, PDA members were also advised to receive ‘Flowers and bouquets.” Use of name or designation plates were restricted and use of escort security escorts and pilots in Kohima and Dimapur were designated only for Governor, Chief Minister, Deputy CM, Speaker and Deputy Speaker as well as visiting dignitaries as per existing protocols.


Indeed a ‘Very Important Protocol’ (VIP) is needed in Nagaland to curb the menace of ‘Very Important Person’ culture pervading the state’s polity and societal milieu. Notwithstanding the Prime Minister’s call for replacing the VIP culture with EPI – Every Person is Important – last year, nothing in India, particularly Nagaland, is immune to such culture.


Incidentally, the PDA’s ‘anti-VIP’ credential also took a beating thereafter following the appointment of several party functionaries within the alliance either with Cabinet Minister or Minister of State status earning sneers from various quarters as “more VVIPs sans nameplates.”


Often hierarchical, the culture is often practised in ‘quid pro quo’ basis, bestowing certain privileges or tweaking of rules with impunity, often beyond the reach of the lesser mortals. In medical practice, the ‘VIP Syndrome, first coined by Dr Walter Weintraub in 1963, is a recognised condition, where a person “by virtue of fame, position or claim on public interest–disrupts the normal course of Pt (patient) care in a hospital.” In others words, practitioners often bend the rules they usually practice or make an adverse judgement while treating famous or wealthy patients.


Such tweaking of rules besides the misuse of official position and privileges is not restricted to governmental agencies alone, but an every day’s affair in socio-cultural and religious life of the Naga society. The notion that ‘some are more equal than other’ is always implicitly assumed – be it traffic, church, gathering, services and so forth.


Severely inflicted, the Naga has found an “innovative fix or a simple work-around,” – the infamous ‘jugaad’ solution to the banning of ‘Chief Guest’ by simply changing the nomenclature. Ergo, it is no longer chief guest, but ‘special – guest, invitee or patron, but implying the same connotation.


“Unauthorized or illegal use of government vehicles” is an extension of other practices such as ferrying of children, looking after farms, errands and housework duties, and so on.


Mere tokenism is not the ideal mechanism to fight the menace. The ethical code of conduct expected of public servants and officials with the explicit impression that the virtue of office obliges them to act in the interests of the general public, not personal.


The Wokha district administration’s directive is a ‘VIP’ to act as a key stepping stone to reformation.