Most Read Stories
Bachchan vs Gandhi
What is the feud between Amitabh Bachchan and India's first political family?
There is no better way to turn a man against you than by attacking his ego. If Amitabh does indeed come out openly to oppose the Congress Party and Sonia Gandhi, it is partly because they have had a hand in making him lose face among the Indian people.
Last September the Indian government gave The Big B a slap on his face: They demoted him down the rungs of the VVIP, the Very Very Important People and pushed him down from category “Y” to “X”.
As a result, the official security detail surrounding Amitabh has been reduced from 11 to merely two, forcing the Bachchan household in Mumbai to do the unthinkable—they have to dig into their own pocket and pay for two-dozen private guards. Some of the Big B’s fans demonstrated on the streets, protesting his demotion.
Guards are a fact of life in India, where assassinations are common and two Prime Ministers, Indira and her son Rajiv Gandhi, not to mention the sainted father of India, Mahatma Gandhi (no relation), lost their lives at the hands of assassins. In December 2001, three months after the 9/11 incident in America, a band of Islamic militants penetrated the parliamentary complex in New Delhi using nothing more than a siren and a Home Ministry sticker. The attack left 14 dead, including nine police officers.
Many of India’s rich and powerful can afford their own guards. But most covet those provided by the state as a sign of status. Basically one has to be classified as a VIP to rate a guard, and the number of guards, like so many things in India, determines your value in the eye of the state, in the eyes of your peers and the people you try to impress.
An X category VVIP typically gets two armed constables, Y’s receive 11 and Z’s get 22. The highest rating, Z+, comes with three dozen guards all bristling with weapons and a fleet of escort vehicles.
And all these are paid for by the taxpayers. At last count, there were more than 16,500 police and paramilitary troops in India whose jobs is to protect the burgeoning number of VVIPs comprising politicians, actors, newly minted billionaires, star athletes and retired judges.
To reduce the cost, the Home Ministry has commissioned a report to try to revamp and shrink the security arrangements. (“About time!” critics say, even arguing that 80% of those protected are in no danger anyway.) The Mumbai state government has begun charging for the protection of people who do not meet a certain threat level and have published names of those who fail to pay up.
The Big B was, of course, not the only one demoted in this round of cost cutting. But like all things Indian, there is a special reason why he has been (in his mind) singled out for the humiliating exercise. It smacks of a snide attack by the Gandhis, who used to be his good friends. If the Big B mourns the loss of his status, the best revenge is to become president and make others, including Sonia Gandhi, Rajiv’s widow, and other people ruling India today, stand up when he walks by.
Lee Han Shih is the founder, publisher and editor of asia! Magazine.
Also in this section