VVIP flying machines What exactly is a VVIP helicopter? Who exactly qualifies to fly in it? And, why do Indian taxpayers need to spend more than Rs 3,600 crore to fly these VVIPs around? Where would they go and what for? These are questions that have troubled me more than most others about our latest defence scandal. When I say this, I am not in any way trying to diminish the excellent investigative journalism that caused this newspaper to become the first in India to report that there was bribery and corruption in the deal. Its just that as someone who has seen first hand the close relationship that arms dealers in Delhi have with VVIP politicians, bureaucrats and military men, I am always more surprised when defence deals are not corrupt. There is quite simply too much money involved and too many discretionary powers in the hands of diverse VVIPs for a few crores not to slip softly into the pockets of facilitators. So, what I am more interested in is the label VVIP attached to the Italian choppers we were buying. Why should we be wasting money on the limited flying needs of our so-called VVIPs when our troops are forced to use ancient helicopters and decrepit transport aeroplanes? Why should we waste taxpayers' money on VVIP travel when we could do so much better by spending this money on upgrading living standards for the brave men guarding Siachen? From all accounts, their lives are so hard that soldiers are known to lose their minds if they stay too long. How sad that the requirements of our troops are rarely discussed except when war breaks out and we notice how badly equipped they are and how badly clad. Then for fifteen minutes we vent our ire on the VVIPs who rule us before returning once more to servile acceptance of their exalted status. It was on account of bad ideas copied from the former Soviet Union and Maoist China that we learned to accept long ago that there was no harm in our VVIP rulers living in our equivalent of the Kremlin and the Forbidden City: Lutyens' Delhi. So even when they failed to build affordable homes for the urban poor we accepted with docility that they should be allowed to live in splendour. We continue to subsidise their palatial homes, their electricity, domestic gas and travel while most of our citizens do without minimum public services. Since nobody complained about these glaring inequities, it emboldened our VVIP rulers to extend their privileges to include VVIP schools and healthcare. Even private schools and hospitals in cities across the country provide special services to anyone who is a VVIP or related to one. After the horrific gang rape in Delhi, it became public knowledge that policing was hopelessly skewed. So while India has one policeman to protect 761 citizens, there are 47,557 policemen deployed for the protection of 14,842 VVIPs. As someone who lives in a village not far from the route that the white bus took on that cold, dreadful winter's night, I can report that there is no routine policing. Four years ago, when my house was robbed and I had to report the matter at the local police station it did not take me long to discover that my stolen safe would not be found unless I could get a VVIP to intervene. I could not and it was never found despite there being no more than four suspects. In my ever humble opinion, it is our blind acceptance that VVIPs have a right to more privileges than ordinary citizens that has created a country that cannot provide minimum public services to non-VVIPs. What is even more disturbing for me personally is that our tolerance of VVIP culture has allowed an ugly kind of feudalism to masquerade as democracy. I am willing to bet that no Maharaja in feudal India had more power, more privileges or more pelf than our democratically elected rulers do today. They know this and thoughts of the populace rising up in revolt secretly worries them so to keep 'the people' happy, taxpayers' money is squandered on gigantic welfare schemes. No government has been more guilty of this practice than the present one, so even as we buy VVIP helicopters for the high and mighty, there are plans afoot to provide cheap grain to more than half the country. The only happy tidings I can give you this week is that when the food security bill becomes law it will totally bankrupt the economy so we might, in the end, have to deprive our rulers of the expensive toys they have become accustomed to. Who knows but these Italian helicopters could become the last nail in the coffin of the VVIP culture that has so distorted real democracy in India.