A gesture by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to halt his cavalcade to give way to an ambulance in Shimla, won many hearts. It was not for the first time that PM Modi has shown humility, since the day he has taken over as the Prime Minister of the country he has always acted like a “Pradhan Sevak” and sent a message that all are equal.

Humble gestures of the Prime Minister during the past 8-years have helped in wiping out the VIP culture across the country and Jammu and Kashmir has been no exception.

Till August 5, 2019 – when the Centre announced its decision to abrogate J&K’s special status and bifurcated it into two Union Territories – politicians who ruled the Himalayan region acted like monarchs.

Whenever a cavalcade of any minister used to pass through any street in J&K, traffic was stopped to facilitate his/her movement and commoners had no option other than to wait. The traffic snarls that were caused to facilitate the VIP movement led to many ambulances carrying sick people to the hospital getting stuck in the jam.

Ministers and the MLAs in J&K used to jump the queue as they belonged to a special class.

Doors of the Civil Secretariat were closed down when the former J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah used to enter the office. Nobody was allowed to move on J&K streets when Omar’s cavalcade, with he himself driving, used to pass.

Till 2019 every leader of a political party used to enjoy a special protocol in J&K. Even a few separatists, who were on payrolls of Pakistan and used to act as the stooges of the neighbouring country, were provided with a special security cover and a fleet of the government vehicles.

Former regimes spent crores to promote VIP culture

To travel in official vehicles and have a trail of security guards was considered to be a status symbol in J&K. The former regimes used to spend crores every month on the security of “protected” persons.

The Tribune in April 2017 reported that a whopping amount of nearly Rs 3 crore was spent on the fuel for the security vehicles of ministers in two years. This excluded the amount spent on other departmental vehicles, which always used to be a part of ministers’ cavalcade.

The report claimed that nearly Rs 285 crore were spent on fuel of the vehicles deployed for the security of ministers.

Till 2019, there were 1,785 “protected” persons in J&K. These included 1,463 categorised and 322 uncategorised – who were enjoying security cover in the form of personal security officers (PSOs), residential guards, vehicles or accommodation. Besides, there were 284 political activists who had been given secured hotel accommodation across the state.

The erstwhile J&K government used to spend Rs 12 to 15 crore to maintain VIP status of 1,785 categorised and uncategorised citizens of J&K. These categorised persons were provided with 3,982 PSOs and the 322 uncategorisedVIPs were provided with 482 PSOs.

Not only this, these “protected” persons had 564 guards at their residences to provide them security round the clock.

The security wing of the J&K Police had provided 811 vehicles to them. The cost of the fuel and maintenance of these vehicles was borne by the Police.

J&K House in New Delhi

Another symbol of VIP culture prevalent was J&K House at Chanakyapuri in New Delhi. It remained reserved for politicians, their family members and other influential people. Common people had no access to it.

The J&K House comprises three Blocks, A B and C having 57 rooms, four VIP suits and 38 residential quarters. These were only allotted to such people who carried a recommendation of a minister or a MLA.

Many patients from J&K who used to visit New Delhi were denied a room as the facility remained exclusively reserved for the VIPs.

Omar strengthened VIP culture

The VIP culture was so deep-rooted in Jammu and Kashmir that not only the ministers andMLAs enjoyed privileges, their kith and kin also were provided with luxurious accommodations in and outside J&K.

Domestic helps of legislators were paid by the government

When Omar Abdullah was J&K Chief Minister, he strengthened the VIP culture in the cash starved erstwhile state by sanctioning extra perks and incentives to the ministers and legislators. The Omar Abdullah led regime took a big leap over the Central Government and Members of Parliament (MPs) by increasing the salary of every J&K legislator more than Rs 30,000 than the Lok Sabha members.

Besides hefty salaries, Omar led dispensation accorded attractive perks, free vehicles, security, medical allowance, housing allowance, travel allowance, housing loans, free accommodation, air, road travel, free electricity and drinking water to the ministers and legislators.

No VIPs left

During the past three years the VIP culture in J&K has been wiped out completely. The top government functionaries’ move along with the commoners as none other than the Prime Minister has led from the front to drive home a point that VIP culture is not acceptable.

The Centre’s decision to scrap Article 370, a temporary provision in the Constitution of India, paved the way for implementation of Right to Equality in J&K after seven decades. The move instilled the confidence among the common residents of J&K that they are a part of democratic setup and the rule of monarchs and VIPs has ended.

For 70-years people of J&K were misled by the politicians, who peddled blatant lies to remain in power. These leaders under the garb of J&K’s special status kept on reaping the fruits of power and deprived the common man of his rights.

Legislators get eviction notices

In September 2020, The Estates Department issued notices to 31 former legislators asking them to vacate the government accommodations, which were under their illegal occupation in Srinagar.

The notice stated that these legislators were no longer entitled to retain the government accommodation under rules and they were liable for imposition of panel rent for the unauthorized period.

Last month the J&K government asked PDP president and former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to vacate her Fairview residence at Gupkar Road by or before November 15, stating the reply furnished by her in response to the eviction notice served to her on October 15, 2022 didn’t justify retaining of the accommodation.

The former J&K chief minister was informed that the government didn’t give any extension to her to retain the accommodation beyond December 31, 2018.

She was reminded that the legal provision under which ex-CMs were entitled to various facilities including “rent-free residential accommodation” was repealed by the Government of India in 2020.

‘Red Beacon’ culture vanishes

During the past three years many things have changed in J&K the “Red Beacon” culture, which used to be a symbol of authority, has vanished. The red lights used to symbolise power and the stark differentiation between those who were allowed to use them and the ones who were not is no more prevalent in J&K.

Every vehicle moving on the J&K roads has to respect the law irrespective of who is travelling in it. State exchequer is not being made empty to provide privileges to the VIPs, nor has J&K House in New Delhi been kept reserved for only a selected class of people.

The “New India” is being led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has played a pivotal role to end the VIP culture. His message is clear to one and all that people are the fountainhead of power and the ones who have got a chance to rule them are no special beings. They are one among the commoners.