The night Ghulam Nabi Azad arrived in Chennai, and the city airport resembled a war zone

It’s hard to get back to blogging once you take a long break, and I’m feeling quite miserable, frankly. Anyway, this blog was prompted by none other than a Union Minister and his entourage. Well, I was at the Chennai airport with my wife and we were hanging around the international terminal arrival gate, waiting for the Emirates flight from Dubai to arrive.

The approach to the arrival and departure areas at the Chennai airport are chaotic to say the least, with parking space difficult to find, drivers, bearers and attendants of all sorts swarming the place, tea and coffee sellers dong business, and a particularly enterprising one managing to sell bondas as well, right outside the domestic arrival gate. Boy! Welcome to the Gateway of the South, as my dear old mentor and former colleague Mr S. Muthiah, the city historian, would have said.

I spotted a woman breastfeed her baby, a two-year-old being fed curd rice on the floor, cups strewn at places, and hardly any space to walk – we had to edge our way through. At Chennai airport, there seem to be more people waiting outside than passengers who arrive. And that ‘waiting outside’ number keeps increasing all the time.

Well, let me get to the point quickly. As we parked our vehicle and moved towards the arrival area, we didn’t miss seeing a line-up of security personnel that announced to the world that there was a VVIP arriving or leaving. There were Chennai cops, commandos with AK-47s (or perhaps a more advanced version), SPG or men from the elite Special Protection Group, complete with bullet-proof vests…

We entered a coffee shop and waited for the coffee to arrive. It was hot and humid, Chennai summer as ever. And Café Frappe took a long time coming. While some of the security guys glared, others stood expressionless, almost bored to death. In the middle of all this was a police inspector with a walkie-talkie trying to flout his importance, waving visitors aside and directing them into a huddle. The SPG guys hardly cared. They must have gone through this kind of waiting and accompanying a million times. I just wondered how their collective energies were being wasted.

So, who was the VVIP, we were curious to know. My wife and I never got to see HIM but eventually we learnt that it was none other than Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad, the Union Health and Family Welfare Minister. It was a Sunday and apparently he had arrived ahead of his convocation address at the Jawaharlal Institute of Post-Graduate Medical Education and Research (JIPMER) in Puducherry the following morning where he would present awards and medals to students. Azad was earlier J&K Chief Minister and has the distinction of being a part of the Congress Working Committee for a record 18 years and a powerful general secretary of the Congress nine times. No doubt he is a VVIP and probably deserved some security, but surely not the kind that was on display.

I was speaking to a visitor and we both agreed that despite all the security bandobast for VVIPs like Azad, it would be quite easy for any terrorist or suicide bomber to infiltrate and do as he or she pleased.

I wondered whether Azad himself knew how many policemen and commandos and SPG guys were out there trying to protect him from the invisible. Would he, if he had known, told the cops to go home and said that one or two would do. How many politicians are willing to do that anyway? Jyoti Basu was one person who hardly had gun-toting security personnel around him. There are others like him, I suppose… perhaps Mr Antony, the Defence Minister, known to be simple and clean in all his dealings. You never find pictures of people guarding the Basus and Antonys.

If there were so many policemen for Azad, I thought to myself how many would be on duty when Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi are travelling. Do the numbers help? Can’t the security apparatus be reduced, made lean and thin, and not as loud as it usually is? And can’t most of them be deployed for what they should really be doing – protecting the common man and woman and child?

Indira Gandhi was killed by her own guard and nobody could have stopped him. Rajiv Gandhi fell to a belt-bomb-woman. No SPG could have saved him either. And to think there were politicians in yester years who probably didn’t even having one policeman trailing them and who preferred to walk alone… It’s still like that in most of the developed world. In England, Germany and Austria, for instance, you hardly know who is the VVIP or politician, simply because they do not behave like VVIPs. They prefer anonymity. There are even ministers who cycle down to work or simply walk with a briefcase in hand.

But this is India…


Susan Deborah said…
After a brief gap. Welcome.

I quite like the way you have portrayed the whole episode. It's true that only in our country there is so much hullabaloo about VIPs and semi-VIPs (cricketers, film stars and the like). If they were to arrive and depart quietly, no one would even know anything unlike the present scenario where it's as if they are calling out to danger "Please do come, I am here."

I am eager to know: Did you meet your guest at the scheduled time or were you held up?

Strange as it may seem, but I am anticipating a post on IPL from you :)

Joy always,

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